William Browning writes of the continued growth of soccer on TV here in the US.
Beginning Jan. 2, 2012, all of the games and broadcasts on Fox Soccer Channel will move to the renamed Versus channel called NBC Sports Network. Potential viewership will double from 40 million to 80 million for the next three years of the contract. The move may be small as ESPN still has the most MLS games during the season. Yet soccer needs as many potential viewers as possible.
NBC will have over 40 total games in 2012. There will be 38 regular season games, three playoff games and two U.S. Men's National Team games. As one of the "big three" broadcasting stations, NBC will get a lot more popular.
MLS has expanded to 18 teams this year with another coming in Montreal in 2012. New stadiums and more fans are packing it in. It's the last year of David Beckham's contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy, and MLS will need to pick up more fans after he's gone.
It's a smart move as the NHL has been a staple of NBC as the fourth sports league in America behind the NFL, MLB and NBA. With the NBA in the middle of a labor dispute, the move of MLS is perfectly timed to take advantage of disgruntled fans.
NBC's football coverage has never quite taken off as it is a third tier network in terms of the NFL. The broadcast giant is trying to climb back into sports relevancy. Major League Soccer is a great product to put out there to lure more ratings and higher revenue.
MLS has taken the smart approach ever since the league was founded in 1996. It already knew that soccer talent in America was not as good as players overseas. It also realized that soccer would not be as popular as other mainstream sports in America. MLS has slowly grown in 16 seasons, and it has been stable for the most part.
Fans in all cities have been die hard and constant. Soccer-specific stadiums have been built. Now MLS is attempting to take its game to a new level. Switching to a more mainstream broadcaster is a good additional step to expand the game in more American homes.