Gold Cup final should be nationally televised

As the CONCACAF Gold Cup speeds toward its championship match Saturday in Los Angeles, many may not have even noticed that it’s started.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Gold Cup, think of it as the FIFA World Cup, but for North American nations only. The U.S. is hosting the 2011 edition, as it has for every tournament since 1991, beyond the 1993 and 2003 tournaments that were co-hosted with North America’s other soccer powerhouse, Mexico.

What began as a 12-team tournament is now down to two. Twelve host cities have had their chance, with only Los Angeles left. If you haven’t seen a game on TV yet, you’re not alone. FOX holds the television broadcasting rights, but the tournament is being broadcast exclusively on Fox Soccer Channel, an obscure network that isn’t part of most cable packages.

FOX, which is based out of Los Angeles, could easily move its set to the Rose Bowl for a pregame and postgame show and broadcast the game – which is set for a primetime 9 p.m. EST kickoff – in high definition on its national broadcast channel, but it has chosen not to do so, instead opting for a Cops marathon.

The tournament is averaging 40,475 fans per match, including those played by relative minnows such as Guadeloupe and Grenada. The United States has been second only to Mexico in fan support. The Americans have played in front of large crowds in Detroit, Tampa, Kansas City, Washington D.C., and Houston with another full stadium expected in Los Angeles.

Soccer interest is growing in this country, proven by the ratings for recent games and the fact that the U.S. bought more tickets to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa than any other nation. The Champions League final drew 2.6 million viewers for the English language broadcast on FOX, up from 264,000 viewers in 2003, when the game was on ESPN.

Next summer, ESPN will broadcast every match of Euro 2012 – Europe’s championship tournament – in the U.S., yet this year, FOX won’t broadcast a single U.S. tournament match.

However, FOX flew a broadcast crew to London for May’s Champions League final between Manchester United and FC Barcelona, a game that included no American players on either roster.

The Gold Cup is an important tournament, as the winner earns a berth into the 2013 Confederations Cup, a crucial warm-up tournament in Brazil, one year before that country hosts the 2014 World Cup. FOX is doing American soccer fans a disservice by not showing the Gold Cup final on its national network.