As has been reported all over the place, ESPN has won the right to broadcast Serie A in the US, replacing BeIn Sports, which had been carrying the league since 2012. The announcement emerged just two weeks before the season opener, so expect to see fans of Italian football scrambling to figure out what they need to buy and how to use the product.
It’s a smart business move for ESPN, which has seen rivals like NBC (the Premier League) and Fox (Bundesliga) overtake its portfolio in recent years, while relative newcomer BeIn will retain the rights to Spain’s Liga BBVA and France’s Ligue 1. Serie A immediately becomes ESPN’s top soccer showcase; the other notable offerings are the EFL Championship and MLS, as well as the USL (US second division), the UEFA Nations League (a new international tournament that will effectively replace friendlies), and the Carabao Cup. The FA Cup is also likely to find a home with ESPN.
The coverage will mostly be in the form of online streaming through the ESPN+ app, although there will also be one match televised every week on ESPN or ESPN2. Subscribers to ESPN+ will also get access to some MLB, NHL, tennis, golf, college football, lacrosse, cricket, rugby, and the highly-acclaimed 30 for 30 documentary series. The app costs $4.99 per month.
It remains unclear who will be the game-day announcers for ESPN. That was probably BeIn’s greatest strength: the talent in the booth was generally knowledgeable and talented. However, ESPN and parent company Disney have limitless money to lavish on Serie A, which they’ll certainly hope to make into a league that can eventually compete with the Premier League for American attention, although overtaking the Bundesliga on Fox is probably the realistic short-term goal.
So what does this all mean for Fiorentina? That’s the important question here, and we’re glad you asked. The first notable item is that the Viola will get a piece of the massive pile of cash that ESPN forked over for the right to show the league; we haven’t heard any details on exactly how much that’ll be yet, but the Della Valles should be able to add several million to Corvino’s coffers. It might be a bit late for that to make a big difference in this window, but it could provide a future bump for Fiorentina, as well as all the other teams in Serie A.
If you live in the US and are expecting to be able to wake up early and head to the pub to watch the Viola, though, you’re sorely mistaken. The first match ESPN will show is Chievo Verona vs Juventus, which shouldn’t surprise anyone, as the network clearly wants to focus on the well-established media juggernaut it has in Nenad Tomović. The full programming schedule hasn’t yet been released, but expect the Viola to grace an actual TV no more than half a dozen times; the suits are going to ride Cristiano Ronaldo mania until it’s over.
The one area of improvement should be the quality and reliability of the online streams. While BeIn’s announcers were beyond approach, the actual streams were sometimes of low quality, requiring time to buffer and arriving in heavily pixelated form. That shouldn’t be as much of a problem with ESPN, which has a well-developed streaming service already in place. For $4.99 a month, being able to watch Fiorentina on a feed that isn’t running through illegal broadcasters from Lithuania to Bolivia seems like a decent deal.