John Smallwood | U.S. Soccer drops ball on TV of Gold Cup final

Posted: June 26, 2007

CORRECTION: John Smallwood wrote Tuesday that the U.S. Soccer Federation should have found an easier outlet to telecast the Gold Cup final. The USSF had no say it the telecast, since CONCACAF has broadcast rights to the game and the Copa America. Also, GOLTV has both an English and Spanish broadcast.


IF YOU DON'T know that the United States won the biggest soccer tournament in the North America region on Sunday, I can't blame you.

Even if you had wanted to see Team USA's thrilling, 2-1 victory over archrival Mexico in the championship game of the

CONCACAF Gold Cup, you probably had trouble surfing the television airwaves to find live coverage of the match.

"There was 57 channels and nothin' on."

Well, actually my satellite television system offers more than 700 channels, and although Fox Soccer Channel, which had exclusive English-language broadcast rights to the Gold Cup, is one of them, I would have to pay a premium to get it.

I like soccer, but not enough to add more to my already sky-high television bill.

Fortunately I found the game for free on Univision - a Spanish-language network. My high-school Spanish is a bit rusty, so the only thing I clearly understood was when they yelled "GOAL!"

I understand broadcast agreements. I understand the U.S. Soccer Federation trying to get as much as it can in broadcast agreements. But if most Americans can't see the U.S. team play in a tournament as big as the Gold Cup, is it really helping to sell the sport?

Somebody in the marketing department of the U.S. Soccer Federation is dropping the ball.

There is still a swing audience out there for soccer - one that might be won over by the game if it can continually see it played at a high level.

OK, so the United States vs. Mexico isn't exactly Italy against Brazil, but it is still an exciting international matchup.

It's the type of intense rivalry that might sway some casual fans toward soccer, provided they have a chance to see it.

The English-language broadcast of that championship game needed to be on free or semifree (cable or satellite) television.

Whoever negotiated on the side of American soccer should have received a contingency clause from Fox that if the United States reached the final, the game would be broadcast on one of its channels that did not cost a premium price to get.

If Fox said no, then pay a cost to shift it to ESPN.

U.S. Soccer again missed an opportunity to showcase itself.

On Sunday, when the game was being played, CBS televised golf, ABC had no sports programming, NBC had something called "Action Sports," ESPN had a taped billiards tournament and ESPN2 had taped coverage of poker.

I am under no illusions that soccer is a big television draw, but against a lineup like that, a few of those on-the-fence fans would have tuned in.

If soccer wants to be treated like it's important to Americans, then it needs to do the things necessary to show that it has importance. You can't make the United States playing for the championship of the North America region difficult, if not impossible, for people to find.

Making the Gold Cup available to a larger viewing audience would have been an opportunity for casual soccer fans to see the United States have success on the international level.

The problem is that the only time soccer generates any mass interest in America is during a World Cup.

And while it's great that every 4 years the sport gets thrust into the limelight, it also has been a recipe for disaster as far as being a tool to strengthen soccer's popularity here.

Before each World Cup, the American public is sold a bag of hype that the national team is not capable of living up to.

We are not yet a legitimate contender for a world championship, so when the United States does not match overhyped expectations, it is viewed as a colossal failure.

We don't like colossal failures.

A lot of Americans think the United States is a soccer doormat because their only exposure to the sport is when the U.S. team is participating in a tournament for the elite of the elites - one it is not ready to win.

We are a good soccer nation that keeps improving. We can play with any team in the world and beat the majority of them.

On Thursday, the senior men's team will open play in the prestigious Copa America against Argentina.

That game, and all the others played by the United States in the tournament, can be seen live on GolTV and Telefutura. The games will be shown delayed on Fox Sports Espanol.

According to the schedule on the U.S. Soccer's Web site, there is no live English-language broadcast of any Team USA games.

Another missed opportunity. Even if it had to buy airtime, the U.S. Soccer Federation should have found a broadcast outlet for those games.

Maybe if more Americans could see the national team, more Americans would care.

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Send e-mail to smallwj@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to http://go.philly.com/smallwood.

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