ESPN’s coverage of the World Cup has been excellent. Chris Fowler, Mike Tirico, and Bob Ley have done a great job of hosting pre-match, halftime, and post-match shows. Color commentators Alexi Lalas, Steve McManaman, Ruud Gullit, Roberto Martinez, Jurgen Klinsmann and Shaun Bartlett have been spot on. The questions asked by Fowler, Tirico, and Ley shows they have done their homework, and ESPN is treating the World Cup with great respect – of course they have the broadcast rights to it along with ABC.
“Show it and they will come” – just like “Build it and they will come.”
Now ESPN needs to cover MLS more. There are hour long SportsCenters in which ESPN not only doesn’t show any MLS highlights, but they don’t even mention any scores. Hockey has grown in the U.S. in large part because ESPN covers it so much. They should do the same for soccer, and MLS should try to get a contract with ESPN. If hockey can make it in the U.S., soccer can. A lot more Americans have played soccer than hockey.
Most people under 50 played soccer when they were young. So there are more people who have played soccer than ever before in the U.S. The sport may never overtake football and basketball in America, but it may overtake hockey and baseball within 30 years.
ESPN should pay more attention to soccer and treat it with respect like Fowler, Tirico, and Ley have. Some of the anchors still joke about it when they show highlights because they think it’s a stupid sport or they don’t like the fact that some of the names of players are foreign-sounding.
ESPN: just cover MLS. You don’t have to do it a lot, just a few minutes each show, and do the occasional feature. Whoever thinks that a ratio of 20 minutes of baseball highlights to 6 minutes of golf highlights to 0 minutes of soccer is best for the network is flat out wrong. How about a ratio of 18 minutes of baseball to 6 minutes of golf to 2 minutes of MLS. At least that’s better than nothing.