As of 2023, US Soccer media broadcast rights are returned in-house. As part of the Federation’s offer to broadcasters, US Soccer has included the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
This strategic move presents one of the oldest domestic cup competitions in the world. However, it is also among the most obscure.
This inclusion represents an important pivot in marketing the Lamar Hunt Open Cup of the past. Then, US Soccer did very little promotion of the competition. Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing have not included the US Open Cup in their package. Instead, the package focused on the rights of the United States men’s and women’s national teams. For many years, streams of Lamar Hunt Open Cup first-round matches were few and far between.
Here’s how the US Open Cup lines up with a potential media deal being sought by US Soccer.
US Open Lamar Hunt Cup
As its name suggests, the Lamar Hunt Open Cup is open to any applicant club in the United States. Each year, the tournament tells stories of giant murders by amateur clubs. Additionally, some lower league professional teams make deep runs.
The winner of the Lamar Hunt Open Cup earns a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League. Therefore, in theory, the competition is a direct route to qualifying for the FIFA Club World Cup. It is the most open and accessible men’s soccer competition in the United States.
Unfortunately, the Lamar Hunt Open Cup exists in obscurity outside of a small niche. In terms of streaming and television, coverage of the competition has been inconsistent. Awareness is minimal, even for football fans who love similar cup competitions in Europe. It’s a mid-week competition that has failed to find a niche except among a small number of “trendy” fans of the domestic game.
But, his potential seems limitless, especially in a country that loves knockout competitions and playoffs. It could also potentially be of interest to European football fans, especially those who revere the FA Cup and other domestic cup competitions.
The US Open Cup in US Soccer’s media deal
In our recent interview with US Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone, she revealed that US Soccer’s upcoming broadcast schedule will include the Lamar Hunt Open Cup. Currently, the Federation is negotiating with potential media partners.
The US Open Cup offers broadcast potential via an abundance of matches throughout the calendar year. The competition runs from March to September and qualifying starts at the end of September for the following year’s cup.
Broadcasters can get creative with how they use the Lamar Hunt Open Cup. It used to be that wraparound radio shows and podcasts went through all the action at once. The first nights of the Lamar Hunt Open Cup are like the last matchdays of Europe’s top leagues. Simultaneous kickoffs allow the US Open Cup to broadcast a “Premier League Goal Rush” style program.
In the past, the rights to the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup were sold on a piecemeal basis. Fans had little notice of the streaming partners. Additionally, many matches were neither shown on TV nor streamed. In recent years, as more matches have been shown on ESPN+, the package details are unclear. In addition, the promotion of the contest has been negligible.
Tournament-type competition enthusiasts
The US Open Cup has similar broadcast potential to the NCAA’s March Madness. Many college basketball fans don’t watch the regular season. Either way, millions of people fill the brackets and watch the tournament every year. The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments are quick and only last a month. Of course, the US Open Cup differs in this regard.
However, Americans are falling in love with the long, drawn-out NBA and NHL playoffs. There, more than half of the eligible teams qualify. The Lamar Hunt Open Cup potentially offers domestic football its best chance to reduce the crowding of other sporting competitions.
For its part, MLS values knockout cup competitions. After all, the entire league has hitched its wagon to a playoff system to determine a champion. Also, the improvement League Cup in 2023 rivals the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup for attention.
What’s more, MLS clubs have won every Lamar Hunt US Open Cup since 2000. Yet in each of these competitions, a lower division club has made a deep run. These clubs provide the “Cinderella stories” that attract new fans.
Include the tournament in a broadcast rights agreement
American football choosing to include the Lamar Hunt Open Cup in a broader media rights agreement potentially gives the competition a bigger window where it can become more visible. The competition needs sponsorship dollars to raise its profile, as well as a consistent TV or streaming presence, but its inclusion in a larger package can only help.
The potential for the Lamar Hunt Open Cup to be part of a larger media rights deal is very encouraging. Perhaps at last this ‘sleeping giant’ of a competition will have its day and grow in a way befitting such a historic cup in a country where the sport continues to grow by leaps and bounds.