If NHL, NBC and Versus execs collectively exhaled when Nathan Horton scored for Boston with 7:33 remaining in the third period and the Bruins held on against the Tampa Bay Lightning to prevent a Sun Belt vs. Canada Stanley Cup Final series, Fox Sports Media Group officials have every reason to be breathless about the UEFA Champions League Final.
Fox, which will begin its prematch show at 2 p.m. (ET) in front of a 2:45 p.m. kickoff from Wembley Stadium (Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Deportes start their prematch presentations at 1 p.m., before the Spanish-language net continues with game coverage), is sitting on the best of Spain’s La Liga with FC Barcelona against the tops in the Barclays Premier League, as ManU surpassed Liverpool with 19 English league titles overall.
Barcelona, led by futbol’s transcendent “Flea,” Lionel Messi, and much of Spain’s 2010 World Cup squad, against the Red Devils, featuring the venerable Sir Alex Ferguson and striker Wayne Rooney, is the match-up of choice, a significant upgrade on paper over the 2010 event that saw The Special One’s Inter Milan triumph over Bayern Munich, not to mention a rematch of the 2009 final, captured by the Catalan club.
The marquee match notwithstanding, the Champions League circuit has Nielsen momentum on its side. This year, Fox Soccer Channel, the primary U.S. home to Champions League matches, scored a 32% rise to average 186,000 viewers for 28 taped and live midweek telecasts from 141,000 for the same number of windows in 2010.
Meanwhile, U.S. viewership for both legs of the 2011 Champions League semifinals — Barca-Real Madrid and ManU- Schalke 04 — scored significant growth across Fox Sports Media Group networks compared to a year ago. Both legs combined on FSC, FX and Fox Deportes totaled 2.95 million watchers, up 75% compared to 1.69 million on FSC, FSN and Fox Sports En Español.
With the high-profile game on May 28, Fox figures to easily surpass the 1.0 U.S. rating and 1.6 million that Inter Milan-Bayern garnered a year ago, which marked the first time the Champions League Final played out on a Saturday. To that end, last year’s final was up 11% in ratings and 14% from a 0.9 and 1.4 million for Barca-ManU, when it aired on ESPN midweek in 2009.
By the way, who you got, Barca or ManU?