On Saturday, August 15th, the EPL kicked off a new season. However, this season kickoff was at 7:45am here on the East Coast, and it was quite a bit different: it was in HD. Chelsea opened up the season against Hull City, and in the U.S., this game was not on Fox Soccer Channel or Setanta. It was on ESPN2. In light of Setanta’s financial troubles over in England, ESPN was able to pull Setanta’s share of EPL games in a bidding war when the FA revoked Setanta’s contract for failure to pay. That meant, in a deal with Fox Soccer Channel that was struck a mere hours before the first game was to air, that ESPN will have a weekly Saturday game as well as the Monday afternoon game if there is one. This is great because most of the games will be in HD and will allow millions of people who didn’t have FSC to watch a game each Saturday morning.
Not done with their soccer coverage, ESPN then snapped up the rights to a slot of La Liga matches on Sundays, also to be broadcast in HD. This is great for a league that, until this year, was only on GolTV. While GolTV gave great coverage, high profile games with the influx of talent that has come to La Liga will get to take center stage on Sundays. Imagine El Clásico (Real Madrid-Barcelona) on ESPN2 in HD…oooh I can’t wait.
I do hope that ESPN not only shows the big-time teams, like Chelsea or Real or Man U or Barca, but also gets a chance to show off the smaller teams in both leagues. So far, the 3 games shown on ESPN2 have been Chelsea-Hull, Wigan-Man U and Liverpool-Aston Villa. I believe this Saturday will feature Chelsea against recently-promoted Burnley. This is what this is all about: to grow the popularity of the sport through having access to the 2 top leagues in the world, and to showcase those teams in these leagues that don’t normally get the airtime. I hope it succeeds this year, and that ESPN, along with FSC and GolTV, will be able to broadcast more soccer in HD to the masses as this sport grows in this country, and I hope that this leads to better deals with these networks with MLS and USL to grow the domestic leagues as well.