ESPN lost the 2018 and 2022 World Cup rights to FOX. However, worries the WWL’s active engagement with soccer would cease may be premature with noted admirer John Skipper moving up the executive chain. A source tells TheBigLead ESPN plans to “massively overhaul its online soccer presence” with a new website to be unveiled around this summer’s European Championships.
The WWL bought Soccernet in 1999, outsourcing most of ESPN.com’s soccer content to London. As the sport has become more popular in the U.S. the past decade, this has complicated ESPN’s ability to target a burgeoning American audience on the web. American content was initially buried. Now, ESPN has two separate sites, ESPN Soccer and Soccernet, an unwieldy arrangement forcing users to shuttle between sites to find content for different leagues. While the website produces some meritable and innovative content, such as David Hirshey’s columns, the Soccer Power Index and the Five Aside Blog, it can be hard to find unless specifically looking for it. One streamlined, navigable and cosmopolitan site, more akin with SI.com’s page, would be an improvement.
There’s reason to believe ESPN will continue to play an active role with the sport on television as well. There’s a direct incentive to maximize engagement through 2016, as the company holds the rights for the 2014 World Cup and the 2012 and 2016 European Championships. Securing Premier League rights for 2013 to 2016 would offer ratings and a year-round promotional platform for those tournaments in a convenient time slot.
The 2016 Copa America could also be an attractive prospect for ESPN. CONMEBOL has discussed making that tournament a 16-team Pan-American affair, hosted by either the USA or Mexico. Gold Cup ratings were a surprising success and this event, should it materialize, would have far broader appeal.
Reached for comment, ESPN had “nothing to announce at this time.”
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