Mexico and Primetime Soccer in the USA

Santos Laguna's Herculez Gomez.  Credit: Nick Turchiaro - ISIPhotos.com

By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (Mar 5, 2013) US Soccer Players – As every American soccer fan knows, it’s tough to be a continent and several time zones away from the biggest club games. Manchester United - Real Madrid (2:30pm ET - Fox Soccer) is huge regardless, but it has a different feel when it’s in primetime rather than during business hours. That’s the dichotomy of the American soccer fan, with the European schedule putting games at odd hours on the US television schedule.

To some extent, the expectation is that the American soccer fan will always make do. Watch it live, watch it later, and be careful checking the web in case of spoilers. It’s what we do, and barring a new willingness for creative scheduling across Europe for games during the work week, that’s not likely to change.

What should be a selling point for the CONCACAF version of the Champions League is that it doesn’t have the same time zone issues. For another midweek tournament modeled on the European original, it puts games on weeknights in the primetime slots. It’s the European soccer experience for Europe, choosing soccer over whatever else is on. It also raises another problem for showing soccer on television in the USA.

It’s tough to compete against Real Madrid – Manchester United if you’re a European network without the rights. That’s a game designed to draw the neutral spectator, part of the point of the multiple revamps of the Champions League. Guaranteed games on a set schedule leading to games that will interest all of Europe, and by extension the rest of the world.

That’s not the CONCACAF Champions League at any stage, and it’s still an open question whether or not this region’s tournament ever gets to that point. By playing in primetime on weeknights, they’re competing against the entire tier of available TV options along with the lack of neutral appeal these games usually produce.  MLS is well aware of how that works when they attempted to turn Thursday's primetime slot into soccer night a few seasons ago.  It's the next hurdle for club soccer, establishing itself in time slots where there are plenty of options. 

If you’re not an LA Galaxy or Santos Laguna supporter, there are things that make tonight’s game worth your time (8pm ET - Fox Soccer). It’s a Major League Soccer club, US National Team player Herculez Gomez stars for Santos, and it’s a chance to see a Liga MX team on an English-language broadcast.

I’ve told this story before, but when I moved to Chicago in the mid ‘90s I lived in a building where cable wasn’t an option. Rabbit ears got me three of the four networks, PBS, and every available Hispanic broadcaster. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I spent a lot of time watching Mexican soccer. That was an era when the Primera wasn’t exactly shrouding itself in glory from a neutral spectator standpoint. The Mexican club game still treated the middle of the field as an expressway to the final third. Dropping at the slightest contact real or imagined was taken for granted, along with setting up at the top of the arc while the opposing defense waited to see what you’d do.

Mexico would self-correct many of their obvious issues. The game today is better from what it was when I had no choice for regular soccer broadcasts. It’s a strong statement the league made, figuring out what worked, what didn’t, and adjusting. That’s tough for any league in any sport.

Even back then, I wondered why it was so difficult to find English language resources for Mexican club soccer. That’s what makes ESPN’s deal to show Liga MX games in English so interesting. As reported in Multichannel News, ESPN will cherry pick the bigger Liga MX matchups for their network, attempting to create an English-language market for Mexican club soccer.

It’s about time.


J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him atjhutcherson@usnstpa.com.

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