OK, I don’t think football (American, that is) will be looking over its shoulder just yet. However, soccer is starting to gain some serious momentum in the U.S. beyond the World Cup.
The latest indicator is Fox Sports Media’s decision to air 9 games of the Premier League’s “Survivor Sunday” on its outlets Sunday; a 10th will air on ESPN/Match Trax. That’s more games than viewers will see in the UK.
From the release.
Led by FX, FSMG networks SPEED, FSN,FUEL TV, FOX Soccer, FOX Soccer Plus and FOX Deportes, along with digital platforms FOXSoccer.com and FOX Soccer 2Go, are carrying all nine matches live at 10:00 AM ET.
(More details below)
Naturally, the big draw will be Manchester United, which will play Sunderland on FX.
This massive soccer fest comes on the heels of ESPN attracting more than 1 million viewers for a Monday afternoon game featuring Manchester United. Fox also scored nicely with a Manchester United game on Super Bowl Sunday.
Advertisers have jumped on board for Sunday. Fox will have Pizza Hut as the presenting sponsor, and it sold out its top tier advertisers with Anheuser Busch, Volkswagen, Gatorade, Heineken, Nestle and Gillette.
I had a chance to discuss the big soccer day with Eric Shanks, Fox Sports Media’s co-president and COO.
What was behind this decision?
Shanks: David Nathanson, who runs Fox Soccer, said if he could air every game of the Premier League, he would. We’ve always said, ‘David, great idea, not possible.’ He came to us with this idea. We said, ‘Great idea. Let’s make it work.’
This is like the Sunday Ticket for soccer. Not only is it great for soccer fans, but it is a great way to educate non-fans on why there is so much interest in this weekend. It isn’t just teams playing for the top spots. Team at the bottom get relegated (to a lower league). It’s like high-low poker. It’s a great concept. Some sports here should adopt it.
Why isn’t the main network carrying a game?
Shanks: It’s just not feasible because we would have to get clearance from our affiliates. Most of them have their own programming on a Sunday morning. We didn’t want to do this if we only had 80 percent clearance.
How important is volume here in airing all the games at one time?
Shanks: It’s kind of like the last day of the baseball season when you had three big games going on at one time. We’re going to have a ticker system on every channel, telling people where to go for the games. If it’s a tight game between Manchester United and Sunderland, people will know and can go to that game.
What does your decision to air these games say about soccer in the U.S.?
Shanks: It says the availability of the best soccer in the world through TV and Internet means more people will be able to see these games. The more people have access to these games, the more they are likely to watch.
Here’s everything you need to know from the release:
WHAT: Survival Sunday – the final day of England’s Barclays Premier League, where all 20 teams face off at the same time (9:30 AM ET). The bottom three teams are relegated from the BPL (clubs 18-20), while the top four sides ensure passage to the world’s most prestigious (and lucrative) club tournament – the UEFA Champions League. Teams finishing in fifth and sixth place can qualify for the 2012-2013 UEFA Europa League.
WHEN: Sunday, May 13 – 9:30 AM ET (except SPEED, who will join at 10:00 AM ET).
Sunderland v Manchester UniteD FX & FOX Deportes
Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United visits Sunderland needing a win to keep title hopes alive in the race against Manchester City.
Chelsea v Blackburn Rovers SPEED
Chelsea’s midseason revival continues against recently doomed Blackburn. Rovers were relegated following Monday’s defeat to Wigan, and Chelsea needs to win in order to remain in the hunt for European qualification.
Swansea City v Liverpool FUEL TV
Following FA Cup disappointment against Chelsea, English giant Liverpool and captain Steven Gerrard look to finish their season on a high note against upstart Swansea City.
West Bromwich Albion v Arsenal FSN
In a vital match for Arsenal, the Gunners aim to secure their place in next season’s UEFA Champions League by winning at West Bromwich Albion.
Tottenham Hotspur v Fulham FOX Soccer
Chasing an all-important UEFA Champions League position, Tottenham hosts Fulham and American superstar Clint Dempsey at North London’s White Hart Lane.
Stoke City v Bolton Wanderers FOX Soccer Plus
At one of the most intimidating venues in English soccer, Stoke City hosts a Bolton team desperately seeking to avoid relegation at the Britannia Stadium. Sitting in the relegation zone in eighteenth place, Bolton must win to avoid dropping into the English second division.
Everton v Newcastle United FOXSoccer.com
In one of the most important clashes on Survival Sunday, Newcastle looks to secure its place in next season’s UEFA Champions League, while Everton needs to win for a shot at UEFA Europa League qualification.
Norwich City v Aston Villa FOX Soccer 2GO
In its first season since gaining promotion to the Barclays Premier League, Norwich City has impressed and looks to go out on a high against Aston Villa at Carrow Road.
Wigan Athletic v Wolverhampton Wanderers FOX Soccer 2GO
Safe from relegation after defeating Blackburn Rovers on Monday, a resurgent Wigan team celebrates its Barclays Premier League survival at home against last place Wolverhampton.
Manchester City v Queens Park Rangers ESPN/MatchTrax
Manchester City seeks to capture its first Barclays Premier League title against a Queens Park Rangers team fighting to avoid relegation.