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U.S. Soccer TV Rights Nearly Vanish For Several Leagues

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American soccer fans are seeing less of superstar Lionel Messi

The long-predicted boom in soccer interest among Americans has finally begun to come to fruition in the last ten years or so. A big reason is that it’s become easier than ever to watch the best soccer leagues in the world on U.S. cable channels.

As recently as 10 or 15 years ago, watching international soccer meant either buying an expensive satellite dish or going to a bar- often at odd hours and in a strange neighborhood- that had one . But the arrival of Fox Soccer Channel, along with a greater presence of international soccer on ESPN, has been made a lot of former soccer skeptics into fans.

I used to hate the sport, but now I get up on Saturday mornings to watch my beloved Tottenham Hotspur, who may even manage to win and not tie a game at some point this season. Judging by my Twitter timeline on a typical weekend morning, a lot of people I know also get up on weekends to follow their favorite club.

However, in recent weeks international soccer watching has suffered an unwelcome interruption. According to ESPN.com’s Soccernet site, an international rights change has rendered several of the world’s best leagues, including Spain’s La Liga, France’s Ligue 1 and England’s League Championship, unviewable in most of the United States. That’s because beIN Sport USA network, owned by Middle Eastern media giant Al-Jazeera, has notched the American TV rights to those leagues, and beIN is only available to about 8 million homes domestically. They’re only available on DirecTV and DISH Network.

The super-popular English Premiere League, which I follow, remains on Fox Soccer and ESPN, but those other leagues have their share of U.S. interest too, especially the several times each year that Spanish titans F.C. Barcelona and Real Madrid square off on the pitch. Here’s hoping, now that Americans finally care about the game, that some kind of compromise can be worked out, to put these great games in front of more American eyeballs.

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