Reynolds Rap

ManU-Barcelona: Champions League Final Is Not Only European Soccer Prize At Stake

5/27/2009 8:46 AM

Who you got? ManU Or Barcelona? Ronaldo or Messi?

Fox Soccer Channel or ESPN?

You see, the UEFA Champions League final and player of the year honors aren’t the only European futbol prizes up for grabs.

Today, the Red Devils will try to take out Barca and become the first side to repeat as European club champion since AC Milan in 1989 and 1990. And FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, who has 37 goals in all competitions, and Cristian Ronaldo, with 27, will likely prove pivotal.

But whichever power comes out on top in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, there is one certainty: ESPN and its multimedia teammates will kick off its last Champions League final for at least three seasons today at 2:45 p.m. (ET)

Fox Soccer Channel, in concert with Setanta Sports USA, wrested U.S. rights to the Champions League for the 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12 campaigns, by outbidding the Bristol behemoth, ending its run that began in 1994 for the event that is growing in popularity Stateside. In addition to raising its soccer pedigree, FSC is looking to the Champions League as a means to stoke distribution growth.

Now the question is will ESPN return the favor, and outflank Fox Soccer Channel for the rights to the English Premier League, when that rights process takes place in the months ahead?

While FSC, which will also make matches available on Fox Sports en Espanol and showcase the final on FX on a Saturday afternoon in 2010, scored with its UEFA gambit, it would absorb more than a body blow if ESPN grabbed the EPL.

The circuit, which depending on one’s allegiance is one of the top two leagues in the world along with Spain’s La Liga (Gol TV recently renewed the rights), is FSC’s prized and highest-rated property. Typically, FSC airs a pair of matches on Saturday and one on Sunday, when Italy’s Serie A takes more of the center stage on the service, which is now in 35 million homes in the U.S. That says nothing to EPL encores.

For its part, ESPN2 would have to scramble its schedule a bit, particularly in the fall on Saturdays, when American college football is king. Or maybe it could make Sunday the more important EPL day. Then, there’s always match positioning on ESPN Deportes and ESPN Classic, not to mention the growing rights beast that is broadband service ESPN360.com, soon to be in 41 million high-speed homes, courtesy of a recent deal with Comcast.net.

David Sternberg, executive vice president and general manager of Fox Sports International, and John Skipper, executive vice president, content at ESPN, both have expressed interest in the EPL.

So, who you got? FSC or ESPN?

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