By Paul Kennedy
World Cup 2014 qualifying returns to ESPN on Tuesday when the USA hosts Panama in Game 5 of the Hexagonal in Seattle (coverage starts at 9:30 p.m. ET).
U.S. World Cup qualifiers and friendlies draw two or three times the average audiences of MLS games on the ESPN networks, but they still lag behind the viewing audiences for much live sports programming.
The 743,000 and 736,000 viewers for the ESPN2 game against Germany and ESPN game against Belgium, respectively, ranked six and seventh out of 10 U.S. games the ESPN networks have aired in 2012-13.
But Tuesday's Jamaica-Mexico game on Spanish-language Telemundo averaged 2,867,000 -- almost doubled viewers for the two friendlies combined on English-language television.
The USA-Belgium game ranked fifth for the week on ESPN2 but it still trailed three NCAA softball telecasts and a late-night NCAA softball studio show.
January's USA-Canada drew the lowest viewership of any of the 10 U.S. games played in the evening, but it still drew more viewers than any other programming for the week on ESPN2.
While ESPN moved to add coverage of Mexico's national team and Mexico's Liga MX to tap into the growing English-language Hispanic market, Mexican soccer has drawn only modestly. ESPN2 drew an average of 315,000 viewers for Mexico-Nigeria friendly played in prime time on a Friday night.
The U.S. national team does not draw as well on Spanish-language television as Mexico's Tri does, but the Spanish-language audience is not insignificant. The Snow Bowl game between the USA and Costa Rica in Colorado drew 1,090,000 average viewers on UniMas, more than 150,000 more than it did not ESPN.
2012-13 U.S. World Cup 2014 Qualifying Audiences:
VIEWERS GAME (NETWORK)
2,385,000 Mexico-USA (ESPN)
902,000 USA-Jamaica (ESPN)
899,000 USA-Antigua & Barbuda (ESPN)
857,000 USA-Costa Rica (ESPN)
730,000 USA-Guatemala (ESPN2)
2012-13 U.S. Friendly Audiences:
VIEWERS GAME (NETWORK)
797,000 Mexico-USA (ESPN2)
743,000 USA-Germany (ESPN2)
736,000 USA-Belgium (ESPN)
658,000 USA-Canada (ESPN2)
188,000 Russia-USA (ESPN2)
PANAMA BEER WAR CALLED OFF. Catastrophe was averted for the Panamanian soccer federation when Costa Rican brewery Baru agreed to take its lawsuit against the Fepafut to arbitration and eventually settle, unfreezing the federation's bank accounts.
If the Fepafut did not have have access of money, it could have wrecked the national team's Hexagonal campaign. The Canaleros, who have never qualified for the World Cup, were in third place after Day 3 of Concacaf qualifying.
The lawsuit stems from Fepafut's decision to unilaterally severe the deal it had with Baru at the end of December 2012, two years before the end of the four-year deal, and sign a (much better) deal with rival brewery Cerveceria Nacional.
Baru sought $5.5 million in damages plus costs and legal fees and had Fepafut's assets frozen. Panama President Ricardo Martinelli (@rmartinelli) went so far as to intervene, tweeting that Baru's suit was "against all Panamanians and against me." Helene Weesie, manager of Baru's Panamanian subsidiary, quipped that Martinelli should have better things to do than bother himself with the lawsuit, but the case was soon resolved with Baru earning a $3 million settlement.
Canalero head coach Julio Dely Valdes had complained that the bank asset freeze could have derailed plans to charter a flight from Panama City to Seattle for Tuesday's qualifier against the USA following Panama's Friday night game against Mexico.
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