What's the Big Deal?

The Sounders FC television deal will provide fans with season-long coverage.

A true soccer fan will go to great lengths to get his fix.

Some travel overseas to watch matches. They splurge for the expanded cable or dish package to see more on TV. As recent days and nights have demonstrated, they will wake in the middle of the night to view the action in Beijing.

Hunting for big games goes with the territory. Still, what’s nice about the Sounders FC television deal, is that just about anyone will be able to find those Rave Green guys, no questions asked.

All 30 regular season fixtures will be found either on Seattle’s No. 1 station, KING 5, or its sister station, KONG 6/16. The eyes will have it and the ears will warm to the voice of a trusted friend, Kevin Calabro.

For any professional sports franchise–never mind a newly-minted one–this is a big deal.

The agreement struck between Sounders FC and Belo Corporation speaks volumes. Hard-core soccer crazies count the signings of Kasey Keller and Sebastien Le Toux as quite significant.

Yet the fans of tomorrow will be most affected by having a steady diet of soccer served up on channels to which they are already dialed, so says sports marketing expert Paul Swangard.

Street Cred

The director of the University of Oregon’s Warsaw Sports Marketing Center, Swangard says that through its broadcasting pact, Sounders FC achieves near-instant credibility with the man, woman or kid on the street.

“The team wants to immediately establish itself as a major league franchise and casual fans typically have a litmus test for that,” says Swangard. “Media coverage is a key piece of the test.

“Both the broadcast partners and Calabro bring an immediate legitimacy to the franchise,” adds Swangard. “With consistent coverage and a well known sports personality in Calabro the team has a better shot to move fans from being aware the team exists to being interested in the team.”

Not only will matches be aired live on either KING or KONG, a weekly show is also in the works, and Sounders FC stories will be seen and games promoted on KING’s top-rated newscasts, as well as the daily program Northwest Sports Tonight on both KONG and Belo’s Northwest Cable News, which is available throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho and into British Columbia.

Top This

No wonder Tod Leiweke was all smiles at the announcement. Leiweke is the CEO of Vulcan Sports & Entertainment, the business operator for Sounders FC. He says he wouldn’t trade this TV deal for any other in Major League Soccer.

“You have to think that this is the best broadcast deal in the league, relative to coverage, relative to having some games on the No. 1 station and all of the games available over the air,” says Leiweke. “The fact that we have Kevin doing the games makes it all the more impressive. If someone has a better package, I’d like to see it.”

While Vancouver and Portland queue up for expansion teams in 2011, their soccer community’s appetite will be whetted by look-ins at Xbox Pitch at Qwest Field.

“The fact that KING and KONG are so well distributed throughout the Pacific Northwest is fantastic,” Leiweke says. “They’re available in the eastern part of the state and on some stations up in B.C., and it’s awesome having a guy like Kevin bringing his enthusiasm and his passion.”

A Click Away

True, there are several MLS teams which have all 30 matches aired. Some have far fewer. However most are carried on a combination of cable stations, dispersed all over the channel grid. KING and KONG are available over the air as well as cable, one click away from one another.

The deal calls for pregame and postgame shows, plus the weekly show. KING sports anchor Paul Silvi, himself a longtime soccer player and fanatic, will likely serve as host.

Although the program content remains a work in progress, there will be regular features on players and coaches, both on and off the field, plus an analysis of the past week’s match and a preview of what’s coming up.

The Belo-Sounders FC package, wrote Soccer America’s Ridge Mahoney, “is something most teams still haven’t put together after more than a decade of existence.”

Now, Down to Drew

Seattle’s club finds itself already ahead of the game. “The fact Sounders FC is committing the resources to televise all its games plus produce a weekly show right out of the box,” says Mahoney, “shows a keen understanding of what must be done for a professional sports team to succeed in a major market.”

He adds: “I'm told [minority investor] Drew Carey has some entertainment experience, so maybe he can audition to host the weekly show or work the sidelines on the game telecasts. Now, that's entertainment!”

It could be quite a spectacle. Adrian Hanauer is promising to compliment Keller with an attack-minded lineup. In the stands (and many will be standing, mind you) will be some 25,000 noisy, faithful supporters, Sounders in their own right.

Swangard says a strong start will only swell their ranks.

“I expect Seattle will have a wonderful opening season with fans embracing the sport in a good soccer market,” he says. “That will translate into a good product on television which might help entice that casual fan looking for a new team to root for.”

No subliminal advertising needed. The picture will tell the entire story: Come join the crowd.