Off on the right 'footy'

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:11 AM ET

Save your loonies, English soccer fans. The free ride -- in TV Land, that is -- has never been this good for you.

When the Premiership officially launches its new season tomorrow, Canadian viewers will have a great front row seat for all of the action.

Saturday tripleheaders are back on Rogers Sportsnet, with two of the matches airing live. And gone now are the days of having to fork over extra bucks to catch a Sunday morning EPL fixture -- the Score has jumped into the fray, offering up a weekly match each Sunday.

Judging by the e-mails flowing into one Score executive's inbox, the latter decision is already a wildly popular one.

"I've received about 100 e-mails in the last couple of days from people, saying they're happy we've got the games," said Anthony Cicione, The Score's VP of programming and production.

Then again, The Score is merely learning what the higher-ups at Sportsnet have known for awhile now -- English 'footy' is one fine way to start your Saturday. "The viewership numbers speak for themselves," said David Akande, Sportsnet's senior VP of programming.

In 2003-04, the 'Net's EPL numbers rose dramatically, to an average of 82,000 per match. The ratings didn't hit the same heights last season (58,000), but it's worth noting those numbers jumped to 72,000 after Sportsnet abandoned an experiment to slip commercials into the action.

"It's something we looked at, but it wasn't met with favour," said Akande, adding the commercials are gone right from the opening kick this season (you'll only see them during the halftime break).

Sportsnet did have two late-season matches produce audiences above 100,000, while a Bolton-Chelsea game shown April 30 on tape delay -- when Chelsea clinched its first title in years -- pulled in 196,000.

While the timing of the early live match (7:30 a.m.) cuts out much of the western viewership (that's 4:30 a.m. in Vancouver, 5:30 in Calgary), Akande prefers to look at the flip side. That, with three match slots available, it's more likely viewers will see fan favourites such as Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool on a regular basis.

"The awareness of the EPL brand has definitely grown," said Akande. "We'd like to believe we've played a significant role in the growth of that ... The next step is to translate that growth into (bigger) audience."

Cicione believes the looming 2006 World Cup in Germany should add to the buzz. "With the World Cup this year, the interest (in soccer) becomes more intensified," he said of the mega-event, which will air on Sportsnet for the first time.

A few other soccer notes:

- SoccerCentral returns Saturdays at noon, but Sportsnet has dropped the Wednesday version. "We couldn't find a (regular) home position for it," said Akande. Spanish La Liga soccer is also gone from the 'Net, he added.

- The Score's soccer presentation will be preceded by Sportworld Matchday at 10:30 a.m. James Sharman is the front man for the preview/review show.

- Digital TV subscribers also will have access to more soccer on Fox Sports World Canada. It'll show one EPL match most Sundays, along with a selection of French, German, and Argentine league games.


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