Tangible Benchmarks for USA Team Handball: USA Today cover page article and an ESPN “mother ship” broadcast

Readers to this site, know fully well my thoughts on misapplying success stories from other sports to developing Handball in the U.S. http://teamhandballnews.com/news64.html But, they also know that the one sport where I see the most parallels to Handball is rugby. http://teamhandballnews.com/news372.html

Notably, USA Rugby is achieving two very important benchmarks in the development/publicity department during this quiet sports week in the doldrums of summer. The first is the feature cover story in the USA Today Sports section which is all about the USA national team and its upcoming World Cup qualifier with Canada this weekend. In the article, you’ll note a number of handball/rugby parallels including cash strapped budgets, the challenges of competing against more established sports for attention and the challenge of competing against professional athletes. As a side point the article inaccurately downplays the significance of the growing contingent of professionals on the Eagles side. A few of these players are not mere afterthought athletes playing for minor clubs, but full time professionals making good money and playing for top clubs. http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.629 But, aside from the inaccuracies, there’s nothing better than a feature article in the top U.S. National daily sports section to promote your sport.

Well, actually there is and that’s a live broadcast on a Saturday afternoon. Sure, it’s the 4th of July and many folks will be out celebrating, but there’s no denying that you’ve hit the big time when a pivotal match is broadcast live on the #1 sports network. Undoubtedly, it will be the biggest TV audience ever in the U.S. for a rugby match. Rugby has been on basic cable many times, but in most cases the broadcasts have been tape delayed and edited. Additionally, the broadcasts were typically on the lesser known ESPNU, ESPN2 or ESPN360. With the broadest market penetration, the decision to show the match on the “mother ship“, ESPN, in High Definition (HD) means that the suits at the ESPN network our saying that this rugby match is the most marquee product available for this time slot.

[b]Tangible Benchmarks for USA Team Handball[/b]

Every four years during the Olympics, Team Handball gets a media boost as reporters either watching on TV or in person discover the sport. Occasionally, a quality feature article gets published like the one that ran recently in the NY Times: http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.748 More often than not and especially in recent history, the story has been about Handball in other countries and how the U.S. is a unorganized basket case.

A tangible benchmark for USA Team Handball, which hopefully is not too far in the future, would be to see a featured article extolling the USA national team in the same vein as the Rugby article does. And even more desirable would be an ESPN broadcast of a Handball match. A U.S. national team match would be great, but I’d also take a World Championship, European Championship or Champions League match. Perhaps this may even happen sooner than we think. In January, with a little nudge from the U.S. Federation, ESPN broadcast World Championship matches on its web platform, ESPN360. ESPN must have liked the numbers it got, because in May they broadcast the Champions League Final. And more importantly this time they chose to buy the rights all on their own without any push from the Federation.

You’ve got to start somewhere and ESPN360 is as good as place as any. Here’s hoping that the viewership numbers continue to impress, the U.S. national teams improve and we all see Team Handball go to the mother ship!

USA-Canada Rugby World Cup Qualifier (Match 1): July 4th, 4:00 PM EDST on ESPN HD

Note: Similar to Champions League Handball this is the first match in a home and away aggregate series. The 2nd match will be Saturday, July 11th in Edmonton. Combined aggregate scores will determine the overall winner.

USA Today: Earning their stripes: U.S. rugby team takes aim in spotlight: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/2009-06-29-us-rugby-cover_N.htm