Rumors about the potential demise of FOX Soccer began to swirl last October when NBC Universal swooped in and acquired the US television rights for Premier League matches beginning in August 2013. Discussions about that matter again popped up earlier this week when the LA Times reported that the station could eventually be converted into one that's similar to FX. Not that long ago, such news would have been devastating for soccer fans living in the US. Losing the country's major soccer network would have been proof that Americans just weren't ready to claim the sport as their own.
Those days are gone, though, as is the concept that we still need FOX Soccer for the sport to thrive in the US.
This story actually begins in the fall of 2011, roughly one month after NBC Sports agreed to a three-year television deal with Major League Soccer, the US domestic league that had previously been a mainstay in the FOX Soccer lineup. I was speaking with somebody who had close ties to those running beIN Sport, which was then the infant US soccer station and also the new TV home of La Liga and Serie A, about the future of televised soccer in this country. That person, assuming that beIN Sport was going to buy the US TV rights for the Premier League in 2012, dropped what was, at the time, a bombshell.
"FOX Soccer will be gone in two to three years."
FOX, he explained to me, didn't have the resources to compete with the likes of beIN Sport (operated by big-money Al Jazeera) and ESPN. The Premier League contract and FOX's connections with Sky Sports were allowing FOX Soccer and FOX Soccer Plus to survive, not thrive, and those relationships were likely to end in the fall of 2012 due to a bidding war that FOX couldn't possibly win. Yes, FOX would still have the TV rights to several noteworthy soccer competitions after losing the Premier League (more on those later), but two soccer-related stations would no longer be necessary to air those matches come 2013-2014.
Fast-forward to last October and the announcement that NBC Universal had purchased the TV rights for the EPL. Following this coming May's "Survival Sunday," FOX will still have the broadcast rights for the following leagues/competitions: UEFA Champions League (until 2015), Europa League (until 2015), FA Cup (until 2017-18), Scottish Premier League (until 2014), CONCACAF Champions League and the Gold Cup (until 2016), and the World Cup (beginning with the Women's World Cup in 2015). Surely, all of that soccer is enough to warrant the continued existence of FOX Soccer and FOX Soccer Plus, yes?
Not exactly. I've had several discussions with multiple people who work with or have close relationships with FOX, and they all presented similar soccer-on-tv scenarios that don't include FOX Soccer or FSP. In fact, these people are convinced that eliminating those two networks could actually lead to an increase in viewership for the most intriguing soccer matches that are shown in the US.
One of the worst kept secrets in the sports world is that FOX eventually wants to launch a network that will rival ESPN. That station, if it ever comes to be, would, in theory, be in more homes than is FOX Soccer in January 2013, and it would also become the home of midweek Champions League contests and other marquee matches that currently air on the FOX Soccer networks. The biggest games, such as the Champions League Final and World Cup Final(s), would air on FOX. This wouldn't be anything new, as FOX has in the past aired Champions League Finals, Premier League matches and most recently a FA Cup game that featured Manchester United.
Games that have in the past been relegated to FOX Soccer Plus would merely be shown on other FOX stations. FX has showcased Champions League and Premier League games in prior seasons, and Speed (owned by FOX but also rumored to become the new national FOX Sports station as early as this fall) and local FOX Sports Networks have also shown live and tape-delayed games. For what it's worth, all of those channels are included in my current TV subscription. FOX Soccer Plus is not. Don't forget about FOX Deportes, a network that also shows live soccer games on a weekly basis.
Regardless of the networks that will be involved in the future, one thing has been made very clear to me: FOX is not currently interested in completely backing away from televised soccer games. The stations they air on may change, but it's very likely that more live soccer matches will air on US TV two to three years from now than the amount that will be featured on stations such as ESPN/ESPN2, NBC/NBC Sports and FOX Soccer/FSP in 2013.
Soccer is more popular in the United States now than ever before, and the amount of money spent by NBC and beIN Sport to promote and air live games is proof of that. FOX Soccer may become but a memory after this year, but live soccer games on US TV aren't going anywhere. I understand that a lot of people don't like change. Change can sometimes be a good thing, though.
That MLS on NBC thing worked out pretty well in 2012, didn't it?
Zac is a lifelong soccer fanatic, a diehard Red Bulls fan and one of the only American A-League fans you'll meet. He has been covering Major League Soccer, RBNY and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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