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FOX’s coverage of Champions League Final looks to improve on last year’s debacle

Yesterday we told you about the historic plans by FOX and ESPN2 to show all EPL games live on TV in the United States this Sunday on the final day of the Premier League season.  But as much as FOX has stepped up to the plate in their EPL coverage this season, there is still a bad taste in the mouths of soccer fans after their coverage of last year’s Champions League Final.

To be blunt, FOX’s coverage of last year’s match between Manchester United and Barcelona was an embarrasment.  Don’t remember?  Maybe this will refresh your memory.  Or this.  Or this.  Where ESPN has succeeded in broadcasting and embracing the world’s most popular sport, FOX failed to treat soccer fans like grown-ups and instead reverted to the least common denominator approach of the previous decade.  Michael Strahan’s “Football vs Futbol” may have been the worst segment of the year, right up there with Kris Jenkins and his haunted house.

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Thankfully, according to FOX’s plans for this year’s Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Chelsea, there don’t appear to be any Michael Strahan segments or Shakira profiles this year.  You can check out all the details at EPL Talk or Fang’s Bites, but here are the highlights:

-Though he was widely criticized last year, Curt Menefee will return to the broadcast, albeit in a different role.  This year, he channels his inner Bob Costas and returns as “event host.”  Rob Stone will be hosting on-site in Munich with U.S. and Tottenham goalie Brad Friedel and Eric Wynalda for analysis and most likely will handle the actual soccer discussion.  Last year Menefee seemed out of his depths.  Given the fact that Stone has handled all studio duties since his move from ESPN, the “event host” role seems unnecessary.  Wyanlda and Friedel certainly didn’t wow anyone last year as pundits, although they were much better than Bruce Arena.  Stone also has a chance to shine by interviewing UEFA head and likely successor to Sepp Blatter, Michel Platini.  That’s the kind of segment that can help Fox improve their image if it’s done properly.

-There’s one name that didn’t show up in FOX’s press release, but could certainly still make an appearance, one Piers Morgan.  The Arsenal fan has drawn the scorn of many as he’s perceived to have used his celebrity status to wedge his way onto FOX Soccer’s coverage.  But, if you actually look past Morgan’s act and get beyond the play coming out of the Rush Limbaugh playbook, the man can actually talk soccer.  His addition to Friedel and Wynalda would certainly liven up the FOX set.

-One area where FOX should have no issues is after the game kicks off.  The game broadcast will be simulcasted from sister network Sky Sports in England.  For this broadcast, American viewers will get to enjoy Martin Tyler and former Manchester United defender Gary Neville.  Tyler is of course one of the world’s best, while Neville has also done well in his young analyst career, highlighted by this orgasmic call of a Fernando Torres goal to seal Chelsea’s birth in the Final.  Thankfully the Super Bowl of international soccer will be in good hands once the whistle blows.

-No matter how the coverage breaks down, this game is sure to continue a run of ratings successes for international soccer in the U.S.  The momentum of ESPN’s 2010 World Cup coverage has taken another step forward in 2012.  There was FOX’s EPL coverage on the FOX broadcast network during the NFL season.  There was the record ratings for the Manchester Derby on ESPN a couple weeks ago.  And, this past weekend the FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Liverpool broke records for that competition in the U.S.  While this year’s Champions League Final might not match last year’s epic Manchester United/Barcelona final, two recognizable teams (Chelsea from the EPL and Bayern Munich from the Bundesliga) should ensure more high ratings for FOX and more encouraging growth for soccer fans.

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