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Jan. 17, 2023 — The first matchday in a new era

This evening, is the opening day of the Paywall Era for the American soccer fan.

Oh, sure, there has been pay-per-view, cable, and some streaming of games and leagues throughout the soccer universe. But it is 2023 where a bulk of major American soccer competitions is being moved under a bushel. If you want to watch the bulk of U.S. men’s and women’s national soccer team matches, you need to be a subscriber to HBO Max. That deal starts this evening with the first of two women’s national team friendlies at New Zealand, the co-host nation for the Women’s World Cup.

This deal was made with the combined conglomerate of Warner Brothers and Discovery, both of whom have had their hands in soccer before. Warner Communications was the main sponsor and owner of the New York Cosmos in the mid- to late-70s, and Discovery was a part-owner of the Washington Freedom of the Women’s United Soccer Association.

Thing is, with such a conglomerate, there are going to be more than one than one outlet for U.S. Soccer content. Though the initial broadcast will be on HBO Max, there will also be games on TNT, a basic cable staple. The ratio of HBO games to TNT games, however, is yet to be determined.

Too, there is scheduled to be a merger between Discovery’s main streaming platform, Discovery Plus, with HBO Max, which could further disrupt things in the cable/streaming universe.

Now, the move of the U.S. Soccer media rights to Warner Brothers-Discovery is not the only move to a paywall. There was the movement of U.S. Soccer road games to the Paramount Plus paywall last year. And this year, Major League Soccer is putting almost all of its matches (except for one game a week) on Apple TV Plus.

Combined, this puts the three major legs of American soccer — MLS, U.S. home games, and U.S. road games — behind three separate paywalls, meaning that a family wanting to watch live domestic soccer will have to dole out $350.00 a year. Sure, there are going to be games on Fox (MLS Game of the Week and FIFA competitions), CBS (selected tournaments), and TNT (selected friendlies), but the bulk of games are under the pernicious paywall.

This kind of marketing does not exactly grow the game. Indeed, I wonder if there are going to be more lacrosse games on over-the-air television this year than American soccer games.

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