I often rip the site and its partner sites, but credit is due to EPL Talk for being all over the story that Fox Sports International, FSC’s parent company, is going to acquire Setanta Sports USA imminently. I agree that it sounds like Setanta couldn’t make its payments to Fox for the Premier League rights. What I don’t agree with is the immediate assertion EPL Talk makes in a second piece that the move is a “dark day” for American soccer fans. It’s certainly not a good thing in the short term, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a medium or long-term negative. Here’s why:
- It potentially makes Premier League and Champions League rights available (via sublicense from Fox) to a whole bunch of potentially interested suitors including at least two (ESPN and Versus) that have widespread HD carriage. I could easily see either (or both) networks getting a weekly match or two out of the Setanta package. I could absolutely see Versus making a play at the rights considering that its current sports rights only include the NHL (picking itself off the canvas), non-BCS league college football and hoops, rodeo, Indycar racing (dying before our very eyes), and lower-tier MMA. Additionally, Versus has a history of showing international sports including the Tour de France, America’s Cup, IAAF World Championships, Davis Cup, Dakar Rally and even the NRL, Rugby World Cup, and the US round of the international rugby sevens series. Now, I suspect suits at Comcast/NBCUniversal (who own Versus) are fairly busy girding their loins for an epic antitrust battle, but if anyone there is paying attention, I bet they make a play at the Premier League and Champions League rights, and if FSC is half as smart with their rights as they are cheap with their production values, they’ve already targeted and or talked to suitors for Setanta’s sublicenses.
- This is conjecture, but why couldn’t FSC operate the old Setanta as FSC2 either maintaining Setanta’s old $15 per month fee structure or by just requesting it be added to the expanded sports tiers where FSC typically already resides? I understand that FSC would like to make some money of the rights via sublicensing, but if they wanted to nearly corner the market on soccer outside La Liga, this could be a way of doing so.
I agree that in the very short term that this could be bad for US viewers. But as we saw with ESPN’s extremely late acquisition of EPL rights this season, it doesn’t take all that long to get organized to put this stuff on the air (the matches are all produced in England so all a US network does is fork over the cash, point the dish in the right direction, and flip a switch) and that was with ESPN adding some flash and dash like pre and post game shows that a new rightsholder wouldn’t necessarily have to do immediately after buying the rights.
I should feel worse for fans of rugby who will likely see Setanta’s coverage of the Tri-Nations, Heineken Cup and Guinness Premiership go, but I really have to wonder if there is an audience for that programming that really merits anything above internet or pay-per-view coverage in this country.
But returning to soccer, if Setanta’s demise leads to EPL and Champions League rights being acquired by a HD-enabled rightsholder with deep pockets (meaning one that won’t fold) like Versus or ESPN than maybe it will have been a dark day or two but it will have directly lead to an even brighter (high-defintion) future of soccer on American television.