As the Setanta era of soccer broadcasting in America comes to a close, and Fox Soccer Plus looks to fill in its spot, the good people at Newscorp will have to wrestle with one important difference between Setanta and Fox Soccer – the Fox brand. Will consumers spend money for a stand-alone Fox channel that is not so distinct from the myriad of other Fox offerings?
I am a U-Verse customer and subscribe to the hefty U450 package which gives me a total of 31 Fox channels. That package includes FX, Fox News, Fox Business, Fox Reality, Fox Sports en Espanol, a whole slew of FSN stations, a bunch of High Def channels, and, of course, Fox Soccer Channel. In fact, every single current Fox offering is available to me under the U450 umbrella. When Fox Soccer Plus is added into the U-Verse line-up, it will be the only stand-alone Fox product that I would have to purchase as a separate channel.
Fox Soccer Plus will have a difficult challenge in getting people to both feel good about their product and buy it. To the consumer, the logical question is going to be why do I have to pay for Fox Soccer Plus when FSC is already part of my package? My package gives me both ESPN and ESPN2. I get both Fox Sports West and Fox Sports West 2. Why don’t I get both Fox soccer channels in my package?
Furthermore, there is a very thin line that Fox has to walk in allocating which games go on which channels. If viewers are continually frustrated by seeing Stoke v Bolton or CSKA Moscow v Sevilla on FSC while Fox Soccer Plus gets Manchester United v Liverpool or Chelsea v Inter, there are going to be some angry fans. Truthfully, Fox probably cannot continually do that because they have advertising to sell and sponsors to make happy on FSC. However, every good game that is only available on the premium station is going to be a paper cut in the finger of people who don’t understand why that game is not on their normal sports package.
This is a problem Setanta never had. There are probably only a handful of viewers who realized that Setanta’s games were shown under a Fox license, so people never made the connection that it was Fox deciding which games were part of the sports package and which were only available on the premium channel. Fans who missed a big match because they did not subscribe to Setanta may have felt the loss of the game, but understood it was because they did not pay for it. Now, if they miss a big ManU or Arsenal game that is shown on Fox Soccer Plus, they will be pissed at Fox for reserving it for their “first class” fliers while the rest of us are watching Wigan play in the mud sitting in coach.
Finally, throughout most of Setanta’s tenure, their only competition for EPL games was FSC. Now, with ESPN in the mix and planning to double their EPL coverage next year, the case for Fox Soccer Plus is a lot less compelling. Between FSC and ESPN2, the average viewer will already have access to about half the EPL games. Adding the premium station for another couple of games seems like a bigger extravagance. If Fox decides to flavor the Fox Soccer Plus stew with more original programming, they risk angering viewers who wonder why FSC does not have access to that type of material too.
Of course, if you are a rugby fan or really want to follow the Coca-Cola Championship League, Fox Soccer Plus may make more sense. However, those fans are in the distinct minority of American consumers of European sports. It is the EPL that makes the FSC go, and it will be the EPL that will drive subscribers to Fox Soccer Plus.
I was never a subscriber to Setanta. As I was plunking down about $100 for over 500 channels, it seemed silly to spend $15 for just one more. Similarly, I am also going to hold back on Fox Soccer Plus. Fox will have a big challenge trying to convince me, and the rest of the soccer fans out there, that it is worth it to spend money on the premium channel without relegating the FSC brand, in which they have heavily invested, to a second class status.