Last September, Montpellier’s Diego Simonet made the ESPN Sports Center Top 10 plays of the day with a nifty goal in a Champions League match vs Metalurg. To date his goal has gotten 1.2M views on Instagram. A nice viewership to be sure, but he’s now been eclipsed by Iceland’s Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson who’s only needed 21 hours to get 1.6M views for his 2nd chance punch in goal following a penalty shot vs Serbia at the European Championships.
Much like Simonet, Sigurdsson’s efforts has received thousands of comments along the lines of “what’s that sport”, “Is that something a PE teacher made up”, and “this should be on the Ocho” (A Dodgeball movie reference that poked fun at ESPN’s expanding family of networks).
I’m a little tired of beating the dead horse into a pulp, but what the heck, why not? The lack of awareness the sport has in this problem isn’t just one problem among many the sport faces in this country.
IT IS THE BIGGEST PROBLEM.
Fix this problem and all other problems will become easier to solve. Nothing demonstrates this more than the thousands of comments that accompany this video.
To the EHF’s great credit every match of the ongoing Men’s European Championships are available for viewing, both live and on demand. Further, they are high quality web streams with English language commentary. For the dedicated handball fan it is truly a phenomenally great deal. And, it’s 100% free. How could I possibly complain?
Well, because the EHF and others don’t need to convince me and the other 300 or so super fans of the sport in the U.S. They need to be laser focused on finding a way to turn that 300 into 3,000, then 30,000, then 300,000. Seriously, 300 fans in the world’s biggest market? How can that possibly be? It’s a mind boggling small number for such a great sport. And, nothing could fix that faster than decent TV exposure.
The Need to Find the Right TV Network Partner?
While a free video stream is pretty cool, potential new fans aren’t likely to accidentally type in www.ehfTV.com and get converted. The way people watch sports is evolving, but TV is still king in 2018. A good TV network partner can lead the potential new fan to the sport. ESPN gave handball a freebie with exposure on its flagship show, Sports Center, but I doubt they also gave everyone a heads up on where to watch online. (For sure they took down my post with a link to ehfTV.) But, they sure would have if the matches were shown on one of their networks or even their online platform. And, there likely would be more than just the occasional spectacular goal making the top 10.
For too long, not enough effort has been given by the EHF, IHF and others to find the right network. Getting on TV in the U.S. was seen as something nice if it happened, but of minor importance. And, then it seemed that any network would do. How else to explain beIN Sports US, which currently has the U.S. TV rights for most of the major handball properties, but chooses not to broadcast on TV anymore.
There are, however, signs of change on the horizon. The IHF has a new contract for the World Championships with MP&Silva so a new network could be showing that event next January. And, the EHF is in the process of reviewing 4 bids for a mega ten year contract from 2020-2030. I’ve been told that the U.S. market development is a big part of this review, so I’ve got some cautious optimism for the future.
Or, Maybe a TV Partner isn’t Needed?
But, then again while TV is king, maybe it won’t be much longer. The way people watch sports is evolving at a pretty fast pace. I, for one am pretty happy with ehfTV. The NBC OTT platform in the 2016 Olympics was seriously awesome too. All of the major networks have OTT platforms and reportedly ESPN is upgrading their platform to address the drop in traditional cable TV viewers. Maybe the partner won’t be a TV partner, but a digital streaming partner.
And, maybe you don’t even need a partner? Perhaps with the right marketing campaign a dedicated handball online streaming platform could take off its own. Seriously, my daughters watch “Youtubers” that make millions of dollars a year. How are those less than awesome videos discovered? Could a combination of social media and advertisement create a stand alone platform for the word’s handball community.
The Deadest Weekend of the Year: Couldn’t Handball Replace Ice Fishing?
In the U.S., the NFL is king and there is a 2 week gap between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl. The weekend between those 2 events is sometimes called the deadest sports weekend of the year. Everyone is waiting for the big game and they’re not quite ready to shift their attention to basketball. And, often that deadest weekend coincides with either the European Championship or World Championship Final. One might think this would be an opportunity, but sadly it hasn’t in years past. In 2012, I did this review of what was on every available sports channel in the U.S. Yes, depressingly the NBC Sports Network had an Ice Fishing showing on. Ice Fishing! And, yes I’ve actually been ice fishing. Boring to do. Mind boggling boring to watch.
Here’s hoping that next year around this time we’ll be celebrating a World Championship Final on a major U.S. Network. It has to happen sooner or later. I suggest sooner is the better option.