Why We Won’t Be Watching the Algarve Cup in 2012

Hello fellow USWNT fans,

There has been a great deal of activity surrounding the effort to get the U.S. Women’s games broadcast for the Algarve Cup, and I’ll admit, when I first heard that the Algarve Cup wouldn’t be streamed for U.S. fans, I was pretty miffed, to say the least. Especially in light of the World Cup last summer and the exponential increase in publicity the team has received since then. As many of you may know, the Algarve Cup is one of the most prestigious women’s soccer tournaments in the world and exhibits an incredible amount of international talent. Not to mention this will be the first time the U.S. will see Japan since the World Cup final – those facts alone make it worth broadcasting in my opinion. Anyway, because of indirect, misleading and mostly zero responses from the official entities involved, plus a great deal of speculation and misunderstanding of how the whole process works, there has been a ton of confusion about this whole ordeal.

So, I started doing something about it. I went digging for sources inside the big sports networks, inside U.S. Soccer, and even started contacting people in the Portuguese Futbol Federation (FPF) for information. My first inquiry into U.S. Soccer received the response that the venues were too small to air the games by either broadcast or streaming, and I think quite a few people got the same response. When I contacted Portuguese Women’s Futbol, a very kind lady within the organization told me that the Portuguese National Television (RTP) announced on February 15th that they had decided to broadcast the Portuguese team’s games. This was great news all around. For one, it was a milestone for the Portuguese Women’s National Team as this will be the first year their matches in the Algarve Cup will be broadcast and two, it meant that it was possible to broadcast the games.

Soon after RTP announced that they would be broadcasting, Japanese TV announced that they would be airing the Japanese Women’s National Team games in the Algarve Cup. This was even better news because it sent the message that foreign teams could manage to have their games broadcast as well.

In light of this news I re-contacted U.S. Soccer, who then told me that it wasn’t so much the issue of small venues as it was the issue that the FPF held exclusive broadcasting rights to the matches, and if I’m not mistaken, I’m pretty sure that many who inquired around the same time got that altered response as well. After I got this information, I contacted the FPF directly, looking for someone to talk to about it. I managed to find the email of one of their press officers who gave me the email of the marketing director. The marketing director very kindly responded to my inquiries and explained a few details. He said that no American broadcaster/company of any sort had asked FPF for the rights to air the games, as Japanese TV, RTP and one potential other entity had. He also explained that for an American company to be allowed to air the games by either streaming or broadcast, they would have to have an announcer/journalist and cameraperson running the operation, and that they would have to set up in a location designated by the FPF. The deadline for registering a journalist and cameraperson is Feb. 28, and the deadline to purchase the rights for the game is Feb. 29. The rights cost 10,000 Euros, or about $15,000 U.S. (For the 2013 Algarve Cup, the broadcast rights fee has increased considerably. The $15,000 U.S. figure is nowhere near the 2013 figure.)

Feb. 28 Edit – Looks like Eurosport went through with the bid for rights and will be live-airing the Sweden v. Germany game at 11:30 a.m. ET on March 5 as well as the final at 1:00 p.m. ET on March 7.

Upon receiving this bit of information, I went back to U.S. Soccer to ask a new set of questions. Within the last response that U.S. Soccer had sent me was a phone number for one of their communications managers. I called him up and asked him to walk me through why U.S. Soccer wasn’t asking for rights to broadcast/stream the matches. He patiently explained to me that as a non-profit, U.S. Soccer doesn’t have a particularly large budget to designate to acquiring rights to games for any one of their teams. Be it the U.S. Men’s Team, or one of the U-23 teams, the money just isn’t there because the funds they do have, they put into player development and sending the teams to places like the Algarve Cup – which is by no means an inexpensive feat, the operation costs enormous amounts of money as it is.

He explained that to send a broadcast crew to Portugal would involve flying around a 6-ish-person team plus all of their equipment and tools to set up a network that could upload the stream. The stadiums that the Algarve Cup is played in aren’t necessarily all that small, but they are outdated and ill-equipped to accommodate camera equipment and all of the cables, cords and network gear that is required to either broadcast or stream a game, he said. To pull this off, they would most likely also have to set up scaffolding within the stadium as a camera platform as well as establish a streaming connection, all of which adds to the money being spent. Add all of those expenses to the $15,000 rights fee.

He did, however say that they have the ability to record the games, which is not always allowed in international matches, a small victory in itself. The recording still takes a decent amount of peoplepower, but not nearly as much as it would to get a broadcast/stream set up. They will be posting videos of the game highlights as soon as they clear the editing bay. Also, with recording the games instead of live airing them, the rights fee does not have to be paid.

The communications manager said that all in all, U.S. Soccer just doesn’t have the resources to spend on airing these games, but that doesn’t mean another entity couldn’t do the same, such as ESPN, Fox Soccer or NBC Sports. These networks obviously have to consider the schedule they already have, plus the factor of actual viewership the games will attract as there is a 6-hour time difference between Central Time and Portuguese time, which is 5 hours for the East Coast and 8 hours for the West Coast. Not to mention that they would also have to fly out the broadcast team, set up a network connection and pay the rights fee, just as U.S. Soccer would have to.

All of that being said, these entities (ESPN, NBC, etc.) are used to this rodeo and it can’t be all that unfamiliar to them. I’m sure this sort of thing happens every time they wish to broadcast/stream/air a game. The only difference here is that as far as the Algarve Cup is concerned, the stadiums would be very difficult to be broadcast out of, but as I just mentioned, I’m sure they could deal with it.

In order to avoid sucking myself into a scathing commentary on how sports media treats women’s professional sports, I will leave it here, also because this is the point to which I have reached on my quest for information. I am hoping for a contact or two within the big sports networks to see if I can get an honest answer out of them as to why they never went for the rights, but as the deadline the FPF set for registering a team to go to the Algarve is Tuesday, getting anything to happen is a long shot at this point.

Feb. 28 Edit #2 – I got ahold of a PR guy inside ESPN, who informed me that the decision to not broadcast the Algarve Cup was influenced by a number of factors, of which he mentioned the fact that it is tournament season for NCAA Basketball. This, in fact does take up a large number of slots ESPN has available during the day and also commands a decent amount of the country’s collective sports attention so I understand that. He also made a note of the time difference being a factor. Personally, I don’t think the time difference is a big deal because games one and two would have been  live at 12:00 p.m. ET and 10:00 a.m. ET, respectively. Those times of the day aren’t all that hard to be awake for. When I brought up the fact that ESPN3 was airing the USMNT game versus Italy on Feb. 29, which is during NCAA Basketball tournament season, he said that was because that the match had been scheduled pretty far in advance and wasn’t too difficult to arrange. By ‘not too difficult,’ I’m assuming he was referencing the aforementioned difficulties that would arise with the Algarve stadiums. I deemed it foolish to continue arguing the point that the women’s matches had been scheduled weeks in advance as well, because I’m sure he could have given me endless reasons why the games weren’t picked up by ESPN and I was tired of the corporate reasoning. Regardless, this is all a moot point, considering that the deadline to register a journalist/cameraperson team to cover the games is today.

I will say this – ESPN is airing the April 1st and April 3rd USWNT matches versus Brazil and Japan in the Women’s Kirin Challenge Cup, which is awesome, and many thanks to them for that. ESPNW also does a pretty commendable job of covering the players out and about, getting interviews and generally keeping track of the team’s expeditions.

U.S. Soccer also does a wonderful job keeping everyone updated with a fairly steady stream of videos, not only of the game highlights, but also some extremely entertaining videos that show everyone the player’s personalities. These videos, however, are not live matches, which is what we want to see.

Please understand that I didn’t write this to vilify anyone. Not ESPN, not NBC, FPF or Fox Soccer and especially not U.S. Soccer. I wrote it to clarify the situation surrounding why the Algarve Cup will most likely not be broadcast in the States. They all have their own reasons for making the decisions they did, and even though I don’t like those decisions, I don’t know the whole story.

It might be too late to get a network to air the 2012 Algarve Cup, but it would send a real message if a number of people reached out to ESPN and NBC Sports, letting them know that fans want to see more of the USWNT on television.

(A real effort is being made to air the 2013 Algarve Cup by the UK-based Al Bann Media. They have acquired the rights and hope to broadcast the games on a delay via online streaming. They originally had an investor lined up to cover cost, but when a certain amount of visible online support – set by the investor – was not met, the investor backed out of the deal. Since then, Al Bann has been exploring every avenue possible to fund their broadcast and as a last resort is fund-raising via Kickstarter. If you would like to help get the USWNT games at the 2013 Algarve Cup broadcast, consider donating to the cause. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/459016368/watch-the-uswnt-at-the-2013-algarve-cup)

Also – if anyone can find a link to where Japanese TV is streaming, that could at least be a way we can watch the U.S./Japan game.

March. 3 Edit – If I am not mistaken, justin.tv will have the stream from Japanese Television for the USWNT v. JapanWNT match on March 5 at 9:10 a.m. ET. They had the stream for the Japan v. Denmark and Japan v. Norway games and I am hoping the same applies on Monday.

Cheers,
Haley

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