This Is Why ESPN Isn’t Getting Out of The Soccer Business Anytime Soon

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Written By Chris Azzopardi

The 2011-12 Barclays Premier League season was ESPN’s most-watched season to date, giving further credence to the notion that not only is soccer on American television not going anywhere, it’s likely the country’s top sports network will invest further resources into it in the future. The ratings aren’t overly impressive, but they represent tangible growth.

The average audience for a ESPN Premier League match grew seven percent to 321,000, while the number of households tuning in jumped nine percent to 269,000.

Three of this year’s games jumped into ESPN’s top-five most-watched matches, with the Manchester City v. Manchester United tilt of April 30th, taking over the top spot with a total of 1.033 millions viewers. That game was the first Premier League match that ESPN moved to their flagship network rather than showing it on ESPN2, to obvious benefit. The number represents a Premier League cable record.

The title-deciding Manchester City v. Queens Park Rangers match on Sunday attracted 600,000 viewers.

The network also saw massive gains in its streaming numbers of the Premier League:

Sunday’s Manchester City vs. Queens Park Rangers match logged nearly 108,000 unique viewers and 4.76 million minutes across ESPN3 and WatchESPN on computers, smartphones, tablets and Xbox (source: Adobe/Omniture). In the 2011-2012 season, these platforms generated a monthly average of nearly 174,000 unique viewers and 8.9 million live minutes for Premier League matches on computers – up 36 percent and 73 percent, respectively compared to the previous season. Additionally, EPL matches this season logged 9.2 million monthly average minutes across computers, smartphones and tablets, up 78 percent compared to ESPN3 on computers last year.

Fox’s investment in broadcasting the game in the United States has gotten more recent headlines, mostly because of the sheer volume of games the company offered across their various channels, but it’s ultimately ESPN that will lead the way in creating new soccer fans. Due to ESPN’s ubiquitous nature in American sports, the slow trickle of soccer—and specifically Premier League soccer—into the mainstream will be most evident through the efforts of ESPN.

As long as the number are going up, soccer’s place on American television is secure; what will be worth watching is how, and in what measure, ESPN incorporates the game into its discussion and news programming on a larger scale.

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