The US Open Cup Deserves Better… Here’s A Potential Solution
The US Open Cup is the second-longest continually operating soccer tournament in the world but is treated like a meaningless afterthought by what feels like most of the US soccer community.
The round of 16 matches kicked off last night and you would be forgiven if you had no idea. TheCup.us does a great job of covering the tournament and I highly recommend you reading that site and giving them a follow on Twitter. But the reality is there is not nearly enough media coverage and fan attention for this competition.
Most matches are relegated to YouTube and while production quality has improved over the years on that platform, it’s still well below the standards that this competition should command. It was awesome to see Christos FC get national media coverage and it’s great that ESPN2 is showing tonight’s FC Cincinnati vs Chicago Fire match. It’s simply not enough though. Growing an audience for a sport on television requires consistent programming and committed advertising. Neither of these exist for the US Open Cup right now.
We discussed this on our most recent Bros Talking Soccer podcast and our discussion there motivated me to write this post. Let’s ignore the argument that “American sports fans” can’t grasp the concept of concurrent competitions (meaning regular season and cup competition) running at the same time. While that’s frustrating, I’ve come to just accept that fact.
The part that frustrates me is that the United States has tens of millions of soccer fans (a quick Facebook survey lists about 60 million adults in the US as interested in soccer). These fans are likely to understand the concept of a cup competition. It’s clear that Liga MX, MLS, European leagues, and even the lower divisions of US soccer are growing their American audience while it feels like the US Open Cup continues to stay in the same place.
The issue is lack of prestige for the tournament and lack of knowledge from fans that it’s even going on. Both of these can be solved through raising the Cup’s profile via increased media coverage.
How does the Cup get increased media coverage?
US Soccer has a $100+ million dollar surplus in their budget. US Soccer also owns and runs the US Open Cup. They’re considering a number of options to put that funding to good use and I propose they take a page from MLS’ early playbook and pay TV networks (or at least not charge a network) to carry US Open Cup matches. This should start at least in the round of 16 if not before.
For some context, in its early days, MLS did not charge TV networks to carry their matches. It was a long term strategic play as MLS understood that there was limited demand for their product at the time and in order to get their brand out there, they needed it on television. The strategy ultimately paid off with MLS being on incredibly stable footing these days and expansion cities beating down the door for an opportunity to be the next expansion franchise.
The Open Cup runs throughout the summer when baseball is the only major traditional American sport consistently on television. I find it hard to believe no network would be interested in bringing midweek live sports programming to its network especially if they were being compensated (or at least not being charged) to carry the matches.
It would be important for people working for the US Open Cup to create content that enhances narratives and this would clearly require significant investment of time and money, but NBCSN (with their EPL coverage) and MLS have proven that this blueprint works.
It’s easy for me to propose this as it’s not my money and I don’t know exactly what this would cost, but whether this is the right solution or someone comes up with a better one, I don’t really care. I just want the US Open Cup to get the recognition and attention that this awesome tournament deserves.