Picture the scene: Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula is rocking with a mass of flag-waving Hondurans clad in blue and white. Bob Bradley looks pensive on the sidelines, and Tim Howard flexes his neck muscles, trying to alleviate some of the tension before the game that could clinch the United States' place in next year's World Cup. The game kicks off …
Now hold on to that image and lock it away in your brain.
Because you're probably not going to get to see it for real.
With only around 30 locations in the entire United States broadcasting the national team's trip to Honduras on Saturday in English, plus a couple of hundred bars and restaurants showing the game in Spanish, only a tiny fraction of the country's soccer fan base will get to see this critical contest in World Cup qualifying.
A tangled mess involving television rights, media brokers and the national soccer federations of Honduras and the USA has led to this farcical situation in which a game that should be open to the masses is restricted to closed-circuit TV venues dotted around the U.S.
As is always the case with bureaucratic pileups of this nature, a swathe of finger pointing and insinuation has ensued. In reality, though, the primary fault lies with U.S. Soccer and Soccer United Marketing, the subsidiary company which owns its commercial rights.
Each home federation owns the television rights to its qualifying games and can sell them to whoever it likes. When SUM sold the rights to the June 6 USA-Honduras qualifier in Chicago, it then attempted to buy the rights for the reciprocal game, only to be told that the Honduras Football Association had already allocated them to Mediapro, a Spanish company.
For SUM to assign its rights for the Chicago game without first getting a reciprocal agreement smacks of ineptitude. Chaos followed.
Mediapro tried to sell its acquired rights to Fox Soccer Channel and ESPN, but both broadcasters balked at the asking price. As a result, a deal was cut involving American firm Integrated Sports Media for closed-circuit viewing.
ISM and its president, Doug Jacobs, have received criticism from USA fans who are angry at being denied the chance to see the game. In truth, the fault lies elsewhere.
Must-see closed-circuit TV
"We are trying to get this out there as much as possible," Jacobs said in a telephone interview with Yahoo! Sports. "We've had a limited timeframe to work under and we are attempting to get the game into as many venues across the country as we can."
However, interest from bars and restaurants has been limited. As of Wednesday afternoon, only 29 venues were listed on the ISM website as having signed up.
Some may have been put off by the fee of around $2000 per bar, especially with baseball playoffs and college football in full swing. Most venues showing the game are expected to have a cover charge.
"It is disappointing," said Bradley, the U.S. head coach. "We obviously want as many people to get the chance to see our games as possible."
The USA's miracle run in the Confederations Cup boosted interest in the national team, but a situation such as this – where the side could achieve something as significant as reaching the World Cup with precious few people actually able to see it – is a backward step in the push to boost soccer's popularity in America.
SUM had not responded to requests for comment by Wednesday afternoon.