I tried to warn ya folks… this time, soccer is truly making it in the American sporting culture. In fact, 2011 might be a true watershed year for soccer’s growth in the USA because multiple television networks are making a profound commitment to broadcasting the beautiful game. First, there was ESPN’s rousing success in broadcasting the Women’s World Cup this summer and the ever-growing popularity of lead play-by-play man Ian Darke. We then told you earlier this month about NBC’s new deal with the MLS that will broadcast several games a year (both MLS and U.S. Men’s National Team) on both NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) and The Peacock itself. The only real loser of that deal looked like it was FOX Soccer, who was losing their rights package to the domestic league.
But, did FOX have a different plan all along to hitch their wagon to soccer’s ever-expanding growth? Apparently so, because FOX has announced their intention to air four English Premier League games on their broadcast network during football season. And no, I don’t mean futbol, I mean football as in the N… F… L. According to EPL Talk, FOX will air three games on tape delay during the NFL season when the network doesn’t have an NFL doubleheader (either 2-4PM or 4:30-6:30PM depending on your local game that week).
The more surprising news is that the FOX Network will also air a LIVE EPL game on Super Bowl Sunday, and it will feature rivals Manchester United and Chelsea, two teams who have combined to win the last seven Premier League Championships. It will be the first time a broadcast network televises a live EPL game, truly a historic occasion. If nothing else, this news in addition to NBC’s commitment to air live soccer on their broadcast network is a huge step forward towards the growth of the game. After all, the most recent Champions League Final between Barcelona and Manchester United was the most watched in American history, and it was broadcasted live on FOX.
However, there is a certain amount of skepticism inherent with FOX’s commitment to airing these EPL games because, quite frankly, their past Champions League coverage on broadcast network tv has been an embarrassment. Unlike ESPN, and hopefully NBC Sports, FOX has attempted to dumb down their soccer broadcasts to the masses. One can imagine painful segments like Scooter of FOX Baseball fame to try to “broaden” soccer’s appeal to NFL fans who may be tuning in to soccer for the first time. In truth, ESPN’s success in televising soccer since the 2010 World Cup has been because they’ve embraced soccer for what it is. Actually, ESPN’s coverage even far surpasses what would be seen on FOX Soccer on a weekly basis.
The good news is there’s still time for FOX to learn from their mistakes. Please FOX, don’t Americanize and homogenize the beautiful game until it’s turned into some watered-down oddity that’s unrecognizable to both soccer fans and casual football fans. But with the first EPL game set to air on September 18th, FOX doesn’t have much time on their side to weigh outside options and change their ways. Sadly, my bet is on FOX resorting to their dumbed down Champions League-style broadcasts that insult the intelligence of non-soccer fans and annoy the patience of true fans at the same time. After all, this is the network that still employs Terry Bradshaw…