New professional soccer seasons have kicked off in the U.S., and some new networks are in on the action.
The cable-centric Women's United Soccer Association will have four of its matches televised on ESPN2 this season. The schedule kicked off April 5 with the season opener between the Carolina Courage and the Washington Freedom, a rematch of last year's Founder's Cup II championship won by Carolina.
On the men's side, Major League Soccer inked a four-year pact for an extensive regular season and playoff package with Fox Sports World and Fox Sports en Español, and Mark Cuban's HDNet scored a three-year agreement, as well.
ESPN2 will also pick up three other WUSA matches this season: the All-Star game on June 19; a semifinal playoff match on August 17; and the Founder's Cup III championship the following week.
ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC will air the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup from China this September.
And Pax TV, in the final year of a two-year pact with WUSA, will again present a Saturday afternoon regular-season package: 19 contests airing at 4 p.m., beginning on April 12. Pax will also televise a playoff semifinal.
In 2002, 21 WUSA matches averaged a 0.2 household rating for Pax TV, versus a 0.4 for 11 regular-season matches on TNT during the circuit's rookie season.
Beginning April 12, Fox Sports World and Fox Sports en Español will air a minimum of 25 regular-season matches on Saturday nights. Most will begin at 7:30 p.m. (ET). Fox Sports World will also air an hour-long studio show, titled MLS Wrap.
The networks will also pick up eight of the league's eight playoff matches.
Financial terms were not disclosed. Fox Sports World and Fox Sports en Español general manager David Sternberg said both parties would "share in the risks and rewards." Fox is handling ad sales and expects to tap into MLS's marketing partner base.
ESPN2 carries 26 regular-season MLS matches, largely on Saturdays at 4 p.m., pitting the games against Pax TV's WUSA package. ESPN sibling ABC aired the MLS season-opener and will carry the All-Star Game and the MLS Cup championship.
HDNet has exclusive national high-definition rights. Starting April 12 with the Colorado-San Jose match — the first HD soccer game in the U.S. — "MLS on HDNet" will air at least 28 consecutive Saturday contests.