Sports TV Mailbag #3: The future of soccer on American TV

Jamie Sabau

Plus questions about Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole, Skip Bayless and 'NBA Countdown.'

Welcome again to another mailbag, answering your pressing questions about sports television. Things have calmed down a bit from August's hectic launching of five new sports TV shows per hour, but you guys still had some stuff you wanted answers to. Let's take a look.

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@ScottyBroco asks: Where do you see soccer going on TV in the future? Will ESPN continue with stellar job or another network sweeping?

Soccer is in a really interesting place right now. The national team is a consistent TV draw, with the last two qualifying matches against Mexico hitting well over two million viewers. NBC, as we've told you many times, has been having a lot of success with the Premier League. MLS still lags on the small screen but attendance is still good in most markets.

The problem with ESPN's soccer coverage -- which is wonderful -- is that it may be hampered by a lack of rights in the near future. Fox has the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup, along with the Women's World Cup in 2015 and 2019. What can ESPN do? I'm sure it'll still be competitive and try to snag qualifying rights, and I'm sure Bob Ley and that entire crew will still do a fantastic job. But the network's ability to grow the game will likely have to wait another decade.

In the meantime, check out Matt Yoder's excellent piece on ESPN's soccer crew.

Another thing that needs to change: MLS needs to play ball with the Premier League whenever they're on similar networks. I know for a fact that this is something NBC would like to do: put MLS games on after either NBC's Saturday afternoon telecast of the EPL, or NBCSN's early morning shows. Resistance has come from clubs who feel that gate revenues will be hurt by afternoon games. I think this is incredibly short-sighted. Grow the game on TV. Show me Sounders-Timbers at 3 p.m. ET after Manchester United-Chelsea.

@therealjavery asks: Explain Skip Bayless in 140 characters please. Thank you.

I don't know if you knew this would be answered in a column and not a tweet.

People are helpless to the relentlessness of trolls. That good enough?

@zachhalverson asks: Let's say Fox Sports 1 decides to partner with Deadspin for a mid-afternoon TV show, success or fail?

What I've learned in covering this beat is that there is no single concept that will get people to watch a show. Sports television rises and falls on personalities and chemistry between those personalities. Hence, why Jay and Dan are good, Charissa and the panel are forgettable and Regis and crew are ... something else entirely.

Secondly, it wouldn't work. I find it hard to believe the editorial staff at Deadspin would compromise to the level that big television asks you to compromise just to get on the air.

@tmarusic asks: What will the NBA Countdown studio look like? Why have Magic Johnson on it? Get a host and let Rose and Simmons do their thing.

You won't get an argument from me, I think Rose and Simmons are the best part of the show, and Magic really just doesn't fit in on a basketball panel show. I know Rece Davis has a busy schedule, but he was so good with those two at the NBA Draft. Be cool to see what they'd come up with over a full season.

@aindik asks: Why don't regional sports networks have "watch" apps like national sports networks?

Because they have far less product to broadcast and too much money invested into the product they do have. ESPN and NBC can afford to do it because they have such extensive broadcasts rights to football and hockey and soccer that they can afford to stream it, assuming viewers will watch one game online and one game on TV. There's no assurance of that with a regional sports network. I think we're still a ways away from something like that.

@ethanrothstein asks: How far away do you think ultimate frisbee is from live TV games (they're on ESPN3 now)? 10 years?

I'm surprised ESPN or somebody hasn't taken a flier on it during the lazy summer months, similar to the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest. I mean, you're going after a pretty narrow audience, but those people need to do something when the Dave Matthews Band goes on hiatus.

@jrlind asks: Why is Liam McHugh not on my TV all the time?

NBC's host for hockey and Notre Dame football is one of the emerging talents in sports television. I'm awfully bad at predicting things, but I'd be surprised if he didn't keep getting bigger assignments. He's funny and makes Mike Milbury seem likable, which is something people have been trying to do for centuries.

As for seeing him on TV more often, he is hosting NBCSN's new NFL series, Football Night in America: Coach's Clicker, with Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison. The show airs Wednesday nights at 6:30 p.m. ET.

@Matt_Harding asks: Thoughts on how Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole's schtick has worked so far in America and on Fox Sports 1?

I think they've done fine. Their Sunday night show, minus the panel, is excellent. Those two guys did, more or less, pick up their show and drop it in Los Angeles. I watch pretty much every night, and while the panel is inconsistent, those guys are doing their thing no matter what.

I've been in a pattern lately. I'll watch Olbermann at 11 p.m. ET, and flip over to Jay and Dan at midnight. They're doing some of the same highlights and often doing jokes over them, yet, I don't get annoyed or bored. I'd say that's an appropriate measure of how Jay and Dan are doing.

@mhenderson95 asks: Are the broadcasting crews for the NHL national games this season going to be the same?

I've heard nothing that says they won't, whether it's NBC in the United States or TSN and CBC in Canada. That could change, of course. One thing I'd like to see is Darren Pang working more often with Dave Strader and Brian Engblom on NBC's "B" team. They were great during the most recent postseason.

@jyinger asks: How badly do you think having a full, 82-game season will hurt NHL ratings this year?

It'll be a noticeable drop, but nothing that'll kill the league. I think realignment will soften the blow, since you have Detroit capable of playing multiple games against all the big East Coast markets. It still has to do a better job of growing the game on TV west of Minnesota, but I think we won't see more than a small dip.

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