The landscape of soccer on your televisions has been rapidly changing in the last few moths. The MLS has moved to NBC Sports Network, and is off to a solid start in its new home. ESPN continues to produce excellent coverage of the English Premier League. And FOX, although quiet the last several weeks, is looking to assert themselves as the destination for fans of the best futbol the world has to offer. Next month, FOX will air the Champions League Final, the game that can most closely be compared to a yearly Super Bowl of European soccer.
But, FOX has has also been very aggressive with their coverage of the English Premier League. It began with airing tape-delayed games on NFL Sundays. Then, FOX took the step of airing live EPL games on broadcast TV for the first time. Now, FOX is taking their EPL coverage to even new heights by broadcasting every game in the final week of the season live in the United States. From EPL Talk:
Led by FX, FOX Sports Media Group (FSMG) networks SPEED, FSN, FUEL TV, FOX Soccer, FOX Soccer Plus and FOX Deportes, along with digital platforms FOXSoccer.com and FOX Soccer 2Go, are carrying all nine matches live on Sunday, May 13 at 10:00 AM ET. Pre-match coverage begins at 9:30 AM ET on all networks with the exception of SPEED, with all outlets carrying post-match coverage of this hallmark event.
The importance of the final day of the EPL season might be a novel concept to some fans. Often times, the champion of the league has already been decided. The real intrigue comes with the battle among the bottom teams to avoid relegation to the next-lower league of English soccer. Imagine the Kansas City Royals or the Charlotte Bobcats getting demoted to AAA or the NBDL. The battle for relegation often involves numerous teams with many fans across the country at a fever pitch as all of the games are played simultaneously. Other battles for league positioning are less meaningful, unless teams are fighting for qualification to the Champions League or Europa League.
So, how wise is it of FOX to push all of their eggs into the relegation basket where the most important games are between the worst teams in the EPL? Realistically, the move is more about continuing to impose FOX’s presence as a major player in televising international soccer than drawing in viewers. It’s not like Fox Soccer Plus, Fuel, or the online platforms will draw record-breaking ratings or pageviews by showing Wigan vs. Wolves or Stoke City vs. Bolton. In fact, the best FOX can hope for is a title race that’s still undecided between Manchester City and Manchester United.
But again, the ratings and the numbers are secondary to FOX’s intent by taking this step. Think about it, 9 live EPL games all airing in the U.S. Would this even have been possible 10 years ago, or 5, or even last year? What’s next, Gus Johnson broadcasting soccer? Even if soccer purists have had a legit gripe with the way FOX has presented their soccer broadcasts, fans of the sport can’t complain with the dedication the network has shown in growing the beautiful game.