Though many decried the new network picking up all USA World Cup Qualifier away games, the deal will eventually turn up aces for U.S. soccer fans.It's amazing how quickly we all forget.
On Oct. 10, 2009, the U.S. men's national team faced a critical game at Honuduras in the penultimate match of the final round of World Cup qualification, otherwise known as the Hexagonal. Win, and the U.S. would clinch a berth at South Africa 2010. Lose or draw, and the team would face the prospect of a final match against Costa Rica where a result was absolutely necessary.
Back in the U.S., as anticipation for the match grew, so did the frustration, as reality set in that this game - of all games - wouldn't be broadcast on television. At all.
The Honduran federation, which owned the rights for the match, decided to sell them to a company which opted to broadcast via closed-circuit feed only. As a result, the match was not televised by any network or cable channel. For those wishing to view the game, the only option was to go to a very limited selection of bars and shell out for pay-per-view costs.
The USA won in a thrilling come-from-behind 3-2 result, qualifying for the World Cup. If only we'd all been able to see it.
On Wednesday, word came down that beIN SPORT had purchased the rights to all U.S. national team away World Cup qualifiers. The reaction was swift and in many corners, overwhelmingly negative.
BeIN SPORT is a newcomer to the scene, having only debuted earlier this month, but the Al Jazeera-owned station already boasts an impressive cadre of properties, including La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1.
The nascent channel is currently only available on DISH and DirecTV, which had already irked many cable viewers that saw the top flights of Spain, Italy and France swiped out from under their noses. Combined, the two networks reach 34 million homes, or about 7 percent of U.S. television households. For many, Wednesday's news was the last straw.
How quickly they forget.
Regardless of its cable status, beIN SPORT is providing a level of stability previously unseen for away U.S. qualifiers. With distribution left up to the whims of the host federation, broadcast rights had been all over the map in previous qualifying cycles. Take a look at the USA's away matches in the last Hexagonal for example:
USA at El Salvador, March 28, 2009: ESPN2
USA at Costa Rica, June 3, 2009: ESPN2
USA at Mexico, Aug. 12, 2009: Telemundo, mun2 (DISH and DirecTV only)
USA at Trinidad & Tobago, Sept. 9, 2009: TeleFutura
USA at Honduras, Oct. 10, 2009: Closed circuit only
There were a couple games on the ESPN networks, but another two were on Spanish channels that many with only advanced cable packages could watch, and of course, then there was the Honduras fiasco.
And here's the other thing: beIN SPORT has only been around for a month. With the satellite providers already onboard, it is now turning its attention to cable. And it seems that the biggest deal has already happened.
beIN SPORT and Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, have reached a deal to add the channel to its lineup.
With Comcast down, the largest domino has now fallen. Other cable providers will hopefully follow suit, and voila! Every road qualifier will be disseminated to a much wider viewer audience than any other qualifying cycle before.
Because the last thing U.S. soccer needs is for another Honduras match to happen, with nobody around to see it.
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