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My shot at ESPN

Everyone takes a shot at ESPN these days, so let me pile on.

The UEFA Champions League semi-finals kick off today, with the match between AC Milan and PSV. Which network has the US rights to the Champions League? ESPN, of course.

Are they televising it? No. And what are they showing on ESPN2? ...

Stump the Schwab!!

That takes some explaining. Here are two possibilities:

Hypothesis #1: ESPN management is lost, and in love with their own TV productions.

Hypothesis #2: MLS pays ESPN to limit coverage of superior soccer.

Hypothesis #2 is attractive. It represents a classic "contract in restraint of trade," that would enrich lawyers and expert economists alike, if true. But I'm afraid #1 is more likely in this case. Real sport takes a back seat to trivia on the nation's sports network.

Update: In the comments, "Occam's comb" offers "Hypothesis #3: the American Public would rather watch 'stump the schwab' than soccer. ESPN's management is rational & therefore shows the Schwab." Clearly (to my mind at least), #3 should be the default hypothesis. But it's hardly worth a blog rant, and I think #1 has a chance of being right.

I also note that ESPN will show the 1st leg of the 2nd semi-final tomorrow afternoon (Chelsea-Liverpool, arguably a more attractive game to the American audience). Last year we got two Champions League matches per week during the latter rounds, but not any more (as Brian had noted earlier). I'm guessing the ratings were poor, but I'd be interested to know the ratings for The Schwab vs. Champions League soccer.

It may also be that what was once a bundled contract has been altered into a piece rate contract, where ESPN's payment is based on the number of games they show, and not for the entire bundle of rights. The would be Hypothesis #4 I suppose, which is not necessarily in conflict with #s 1 & 3.