To say Americans rely on quality television stations and reliable broadcasts for our fix of the Premier League and other avenues of the beautiful game is a vast understatement. No, “rely” is simply too small a word to describe the lifeline, the oxygen, the blood and the water that is cable, satellite, or Internet broadcasting of soccer matches.
When it’s all you have, one can soon see why such a hefty number of articles hit this and other sites on a regular basis. I continue to find it odd that I don’t consider myself a couch potato, yet I watched some 15-20 hours of football on TV this past weekend. After countless hours stooped in a state of transfixed vegetation, one can develop quite the analytical eye when it comes to how our football is served.
Because of their colossal importance, I’d like to conduct a compare and contrast, point-based analysis on the two main stations available to soccer fans in the States – ESPN and Fox Soccer Channel. Having full access to both channels for quite some time, you tend to develop certain likes and dislikes of the channels. With EPL Talk as my platform, I’ll attempt to figure out which channel I like better and why.
1. Number of Premier League Games Shown – During the Premier League season, American viewers will most likely get no more than 2 games per week on ESPN2. The Saturday early match and a Monday evening match, if applicable. FSC and FSC+ carry almost every other match of the weekend. If you’re looking for shear number of matches, FSC wins in a landslide. 1 Point to FSC
2. Production Value – It’s hard to compare this variable as the ESPN family of networks has much deeper pockets than the Fox family has allotted to FSC. In all honesty, FSC simply can’t compete with the production value the likes of ESPN. ESPN wins in this category with their graphics, credits, promotional pieces, and overall expertise in the field. We must also keep in mind that FSC has only been in existence since 2005. 1 Point to ESPN
3. Competitions Available – Depending on the month you watch each channel could sway your vote on this one. Allow me to explain. Both channels offer the Barclays Premier League, while they cement their coverage with other competitions and leagues around the world. In addition to the EPL, ESPN offers Spain’s La Liga, decent coverage of the USMNT and of course this summer, the World Cup. As stated, FSC shows more Premier League matches and has the all important US rights to the UEFA Champions League. Also on offer at FSC is MLS, the Championship, Women’s Professional Soccer, Serie A, and quality programs such as The Contenders, The Greatest, UEFA Champions League Magazine and the Fox Soccer Report. FSC even airs an hour of Sky Sports News. Still though, I refuse to shot myself in the foot with this one by deciding a winner when two incredibly important competitions, the World Cup and the Champions League, are shown on different stations but will never air in the same months. Verdict – Draw, 0 points awarded.
4. Streaming Internet sites – More specifically, FoxSoccer.tv vs ESPN3 (formerly ESPN360). For full product review of each site, visit story here. FoxSoccer.tv has had it’s fair share of problems in the recent past. If they can work out the kinks, the site itself has plenty of great matches and enough diverse leagues on offer each week to make it a leader in the field of legal Internet streaming football sites. ESPN3 has been around the block for a bit longer and never seems to have any streaming, loading or buffering problems. ESPN3’s one downfall is their availability of football competitions and leagues. As many good ones as they do offer (Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A), they don’t currently offer the Premier League or the Champions League. As much as I do in fact like ESPN3, a very, very slight advantage goes to FoxSoccer.tv. 1 Point to FSC.
5. HD v HD – Slowly becoming the single most important variable in the soccer snob’s list of likes and dislikes. This is an easy one. All matches on ESPN are in full HD (except when the odd replay airs on ESPN Classic), where FSC is only available in HD on Dish Network in the States. Until DirecTV and other cable providers pick up the feed, ESPN will have the market cornered. For those who have only ever seen the beautiful game in standard definition, trust me, HD makes all the difference in the world. 1 Point to ESPN.
6. Tickers – Let my grave stone when I’m dead and gone say something along the lines of, ‘he loved his wife and family, he loved football, he died never having seen Radiohead live, and he hated tickers’. For me, the single most annoying aspect of watching any sport I can think of. Such it is though that ESPN deem it appropriate to let you know about the Ben Roethlisberger assault scandal or that the Tigers are leading the Indians 2-1 in the 5th inning while you’re trying to watch football. This debate is sure to rage on into the wee hours of the night, but with football, where you need to see the whole pitch at all times, tickers have no rightful place on TV. Save the updates for halftime or full time, or not at all. Doesn’t everyone have a phone that can check news and scores anyway? FSC is no longer able to claim innocence in the ticker debate. They seem to run their tickers less frequently, but whoever writes the thing should take a class in creative writing, the thing is simply bloody terrible. I’ve even heard ridiculous stories of the ticker running later in the day when FSC replays Premier League matches only for the ticker to give away the score of the very game being replayed. Sorry folks, tickers have no rightful place in football. Verdict – Draw, 0 Points awarded.
7. Commentators/Analysts– In America, both sites use the same format consisting of a team of pre and post match analysts and pundits. On Saturday’s, ESPN uses an interesting combination of Robbie Mustoe, Adrian Healey and now Alexi Lalas. Mustoe and Healey are quality while I’m unsure of what Lalas adds to the knowledge of the aforementioned two. He seems to say the most obvious words or will often have a bemused but excited look on his face as he blandly describes how “great” everything is. FSC employs the always happy, always smiling and always perky Christain Miles who epitomizes a corporate suit. Along with Miles is the well spoken and knowledgeable Warren Barton and typically Keith Costigan for the later match. All this said, both American stations broadcast the English commentary feed of the matches which is 9 times out of 10 pretty fantastic. Especially when we get the likes of Martin Tyler and Jon Champion. Since the match commentary itself is the same, I’m going to go with the strength of ESPN’s Adrian Healey and Robbie Mustoe and give the slight edge to ESPN. 1 Point to ESPN.
In the smallest of margins, ESPN barely edges out FSC, 3-2. The result would definitely ring true for those that are more interested in quality rather than quantity. Still, I love FSC and admire what they’ve done for football in this country. HD and other improvements are sure to come soon. They are a great station who continually force themselves to change for the better and to the satisfaction of the American soccer fan.
Let’s face it footie fans, if we could somehow combine the incredible HD and production value of ESPN with the ’round the clock’ selection, programming and passion for football of FSC and FSC+, minus the dreaded ticker, soccer perfection would await our every waking second.
Until that day arrives, we’ll be forced to deal with two pretty darn good stations to keep us going. After we rush home from school or work to switch on the DVR, and at the end of the day, it’s still about the rush of excitement we get from watching 11 v 11 chase a little round ball around a slab of grass. I guess as long as you enjoy your football, it really doesn’t matter where you get it from.
Vote in the poll below and leave a comment on what you like or dislike about either station.