All and nothing for U.S soccer fans
This weekend soccer fans in the United States will, as usual, be able to take their pick from scores of games, from all over the world, broadcast on television. The country has two soccer-only television channels – Fox Soccer Channel and Gol TV, as well as soccer providing sports networks such as ESPN and Setanta (still alive in North America) and of course Spanish language broadcasters keep the Hispanic communities well supplied with soccer from south of the border.So, from Saturday’s World Cup qualifying games, the U.S. based fan with cable or satellite could pick from Bahrain v New Zealand, Russia v Germany, Portugal v Hungary, Mexico v El Salvador, Greece v Latvia etc etc. Add in pay-per-view internet providers such as Omnisport and you can catch plenty more games from Europe and South America.There is one game you won’t be able to watch in America though — the United States’ penultimate World Cup qualifier away to Honduras on Saturday. If the U.S win they qualify for South Africa but amazingly the game is not available on television or (legally at least) on the internet.The bizarre situation has come about due to the decision of the holders of the rights to Honduras’ home games to sell the U.S rights to a provider of closed circuit television. The result is that if you want to watch the game you will have to find a bar or a club that has paid the rights fee and has the closed circuit feed. (A list of those venues is here)”We are certainly disappointed for our fans,” said U.S coach Bob Bradley, “We’re very fortunate that whenever we go anywhere there are passionate U.S. supporters wearing colors. Certainly the idea that this match is not on regular TV is disappointing for all of them, and we understand and feel badly about that.”The players at training camp this week have been careful not to speak out too strongly about the situation — rightly or wrongly the affair doesn’t look good for the U.S Soccer Federation even though they don’t have control of the rights to away games. But the players must be hugely disappointed to be battling for qualification against a talented Honduran team knowing that just a tiny fraction of their fan base is able to watch them.Some England fans have been up in arms about their team’s game in Ukraine only being available (for less than the price of two pints of flat London beer) on the internet. England have, of course, already qualified for the World Cup but can you imagine the outcry if that game was decisive and was not even viewable on the web?Of course, if soccer had a stronger standing in the U.S, the television networks would have fought for the rights to the game and outbid the closed circuit operator and the problem wouldn’t have arisen.While it is harsh to blame anyone in U.S soccer for an affair that is out of their control, the farcical situation is a reminder that for all the progress the sport has made in the country in the past decade there is still a long way to go before the game is truly mass market.But is there not a question for FIFA here? Should the sports’ global governing body not have a ruling that World Cup games at least be available on easily accessible television? The only winners in this situation are a little known closed circuit tv provider – it can’t be good for the game.In the meantime, for this reporter in Miami, a re-run of Burnley v Birmingham City is about to start on Setanta and I’ll have to find out if that Honduran social club, 30 minutes drive away, is definitely going to be showing the U.S game….