For the first time in the tournament’s 106-year history, American soccer fans will be able to watch every game of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
On Friday morning, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) announced an exclusive multi-year media rights deal with ESPN+ that will make every game of the tournament available on the company’s direct-to-consumer sports streaming service. In February, Disney announced that ESPN+ had surpassed 2 million subscribers, so this will give soccer’s national championship for the United States a much-needed boost in exposure.
According to the USSF, the agreement, which was negotiated by Soccer United Marketing, is a four year deal and will run through the 2022 US Open Cup.
“The U.S.Open Cup is America’s version of what is truly unique about soccer around the world –knockout format club tournaments that invite the ‘Davids’ and the ‘Goliaths’ from all levels of the sport to compete against one another to determine the nation’s top team,” Burke Magnus, Executive Vice President, Programming and Scheduling, ESPN said in the release. “This exciting property joins a robust collection of soccer’s best domestic cup competitions on ESPN+.”
This year, all 83 games of the 2019 tournament, from Round 1 (May 7-8) to the Final (date TBD), will air on ESPN+. However, it is unclear whether any of the games will find their way onto ESPN’s cable channels.
In recent years, there has been an increased effort by the federation to make more Open Cup games available via online streaming, through YouTube, and more recently on the streaming platform mycujoo. But the tournament has made very few appearances on major broadcast networks.
In the US Open Cup’s Modern Era (1995-present), the tournament has had very limited television exposure. Only 41 US Open Cup matches have been broadcast on a national or regional cable network; the vast majority of which were aired live. Of those 41 broadcasts, 23 aired the championship game and 11 featured Semifinal matches. In fact, between 2004 and 2018, there have only been four non-championship matches shown on television prior to the Final.
Last year, the only match that was broadcast live on national television was the 2018 US Open Cup Final between the Houston Dynamo and the Philadelphia Union, which was shown live on ESPN2 and the Univision Deportes Network.
In the tournament’s Modern Era fans interested in watching the tournament have had, for the most part, only two choices: to watch the games in person, or to watch online. Local fans could watch the games in person, which is not always easy because most Open Cup matches are played midweek, further discouraging travelling fans. Sometimes an online stream of the match has been available. While efforts have been made to get more games streaming online, the quality of those online streams have been inconsistent, especially in the early rounds when mostly amateur and lower division pro teams are responsible for organizing the live stream.
It is unclear, at this point, what costs, if any, will be incurred by the home team, or what role the home team will play in the production when it comes to these new streaming requirements.
ESPN+ is a subscription service that costs $4.99 per month (or $49.99 per year) and gives fans access to thousands of live sporting events, including league games from Major League Soccer, the USL Championship and other European soccer leagues and competitions.