COLUMBUS, OH - JUNE 12: A large group of Chicago Fire fans cheer on their team during the first half against the Columbus Crew on June 12, 2011 at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
The importance of television rights to soccer clubs and leagues cannot be overstated. Through these contracts, television networks disperse an enormous amount of currency worldwide to soccer leagues and their clubs. Television rights and distribution are the lifeblood of any league in any sport across the globe. The National Football League and the Barclay's Premier League both earn over one billion dollars annually through TV deals alone.
This Saturday when the Fire travel to Columbus to take on the Crew, the first telecast on local Chicago broadcast television will air. This will be a testament to the growth of the league and, more importantly, the growth of the Chicago Fire to reach virtually every Chicagoland home. After the jump, I delve into the importance of TV deals on a league and club level and how Saturday's NBC 5 broadcast can provide an unprecedented and invaluable opportunity to grow the brand of the Chicago Fire throughout the Chicagoland area.
Funding through TV deals is what drives sports leagues to success. With an estimated 27 million dollars coming in to Major League Soccer in 2012 through contracts from NBC Sports, ESPN, and Galavision, the funding and nationwide attention for MLS is arguably at an all-time high. 89 nationally televised MLS games will air in 2012 helping the league broaden its brand nationwide.
However, on the club level, the local TV arrangements are what represent the club to the rest of the community. The Fire's deal with NBC Sports include games on Comcast SportsNet, NBC Nonstop (aka NBC 5.2), and Saturday's game on NBC 5 Chicago. Comcast SportsNet and NBC Nonstop have combined to provide 22 live matches in 2012 up from only eight in 2010 from Comcast SportsNet alone.
One can interpret this increase in regional network attention in two ways: A promising sign that the Comcast SportsNet crew recognizes the Fire as a relevant sports team and wishes to provide the coverage to the fans. Or one can take a more pessimistic view in that the increase of teams in the league has led to national networks desiring to cover the newer Cascadia teams and the sexier glamor clubs from New York and Los Angeles forcing local networks to carry the burden of covering the remainder of their respective team's matches.
Whatever the reason, having every regular season Fire game on television is a wonderful treasure. However, one may get the feeling that there may not be enough power behind the push to get the club out to the sporting masses. Highlight packages on sports recap shows both local and national sorely lack the desired attention towards MLS that soccer fans want to see. In-depth interviews, analysis, and discussions about football, basketball, baseball, hockey, golf, college sports, and more regularly flood the airwaves while giving little attention to soccer, and the attention given usually focuses on the glamor teams from abroad. Comcast SportsNet does well to provide interviews of Fire players before and after games on their recap show, but it is often buried under a large amount of coverage of miserable baseball teams or off-season Chicago sports. So how can this problem change? How can the Fire cut through the enormous tide of Chicago sports coverage and capture the attention of the sporting public?
A solid television rating from Saturday's NBC 5 broadcast.
Finally reaching the vast majority of Chicagoland households on broadcast television instead of cable or satellite television, this is the opportunity to prove the Chicago Fire are worthy of more coverage in the local sports media. Television ratings speak louder than attendance or web traffic. Television ratings cultivate interest from sponsors that throw money at the networks for their highest rated shows. When networks have high rated shows, they want more of that show, or in this case, sport/team.
Putting the Fire on NBC 5 is a very welcoming sign of the effort to push the club further in to the mainstream. The waters are being tested Saturday, May 26 at 6:00 PM CST. Tell your friends, tell your family, tell your neighbors, tell your co-workers, tell your enemies to watch this game. A good rating should yield another local broadcast, maybe even more.