Everything is set for Real Salt Lake’s trip to Seattle for the first leg of its playoff series against the Sounders. The match will air nationally on the NBC Sports Network on Friday at 8 p.m. MT.
However, it’s possible there will be no live telecast on anything other than the league’s pay-per-view Direct Kick for the Sounders’ return trip to Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday, Nov. 8.
At the moment, the only way to be assured of seeing the game live is to buy a ticket. (And there are a few thousand left as of Tuesday.)
Weirdly enough, the fate of the second Salt Lake-Seattle game rests in the hands of the Vancouver Whitecaps. If they beat the Los Angeles Galaxy on Thursday (8:30 p.m. MT, NBCSN), ESPN will air the RSL-Sounders game on Nov. 8. If the Galaxy win, ESPN will air Los Angeles vs. San Jose on Nov. 7.
Yes, those are different days. But ESPN is going to air only one of those games, and choosing L.A.-San Jose comes as no surprise.
“It’s based on market size,” said Trey Fitz-Gerald, RSL’s vice president of broadcasting and communication.
It’s simple math. The No. 2 Los Angeles market plus the No. 6 San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose market equals 8.08 million homes; the No. 12 Seattle-Tacoma market plus the No. 33 Salt Lake market equals 2.74 million homes.
If the Galaxy beat the Whitecaps, Round 2 of RSL vs. Seattle will not be televised nationally. And RSL’s local broadcast partners — sister stations KTVX-Channel 4 and KUCW-Channel 30 — are unable to carry the game live.
Both channels have contracts with their networks: ABC and The CW, respectively. And neither network will OK delaying its programming in favor of the game because Nov. 8 falls in the middle of the November sweeps ratings period.
“Obviously, it’s a bit of a tough pill to swallow,” said Fitz-Gerald, “but I can’t be angry with KTVX or KUCW because they have used an inordinate number of their pre-emption hours on Real Salt Lake over the course of this calendar year.”
And you can’t really blame ESPN for choosing a possible L.A.-San Jose match over Salt Lake-Seattle.
There was a time when RSL (and yours truly) argued that MLS’ national broadcast partners were short-sighted because Real played an exciting brand of soccer that would attract fans. But that’s a tough argument to make when San Jose averaged 2.12 goals per game during the MLS regular season; L.A. 1.74; Seattle 1.5; and RSL 1.35. It’s an even tougher argument to make when Real hasn’t scored a goal in its last three matches in all competition.
RSL is exploring other TV options, including talking to Comcast about possibly airing the Nov. 8 game live on an alternate channel.
And in past seasons, the league has opened up its online and cable/satellite Direct Kick package to one-game purchases. The cost has not been prohibitive — something in the neighborhood of $5.
It’s all conjecture at this point, so stay tuned.
The worst-case scenario is a 90-minute tape-delay on Ch. 30, which will air the Nov. 8 game at 9 p.m. regardless of what else happens.
Or maybe Vancouver will beat L.A. and the problem will be solved.
The Whitecaps were 0-2-1 against the Galaxy this season, and O-2 in Los Angeles, losing the two matches by a combined score of 5-0.
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.