If you live in the United States and you follow the Premier League, Fox Soccer Channel (soon to be renamed FOX Soccer) is a must in your life. It’s the main source of Premier League matches as well as news and review shows as well as a gateway into Europe with the Champions League and much more. But its programming is not perfect. It has significant room for improvement to improve the viewing experience for soccer fans nationwide.
I wouldn’t say that FOX Soccer is broken, far from it. But I would argue that a lot of fixing is needed to elevate its coverage and to make it a more pleasing viewing experience.
If I was in charge of programming at FOX Soccer, here’s what my imaginary weekly TV schedule would look like during the Premier League season. Let’s start with Saturday mornings.
Saturdays, 7:30am-9:45am ET; pre-match
The key to determining what programming to run on a Saturday morning is to understand the competition. The vast majority of soccer fans who are awake on a Saturday morning will watch the early kickoff shown on ESPN2 that begins at 7:30am ET and runs until 10am ET. Depending on who is playing in the early kick-off or if the match is completely one-sided, you may have some viewers itching at changing the station to something better. So, on Saturday mornings, my imaginary TV schedule has FOX Soccer showing Sky Sports News from 7am until 9:45am ET. During that time, FOX Soccer can get in as many TV commercials as they can.
Saturdays, 9:45am-10:45am ET; first Premier League match of the day on FOX Soccer
At 9:45am ET, their televised broadcast of their first live Premier League match of the day on FOX begins. Instead of having a cast of characters such as Christian Miles, Warren Barton and Jamie Trecker, FOX Soccer would have just a single host who would welcome the viewers to the broadcast and then hand the reins to the live feed from the player’s tunnel at the ground in England. Instead of talking over the broadcast, the FOX Soccer presenter would let the broadcast soak up the atmosphere of the pre-match kickoff through the sights and sounds. If there was a lull in the pre-match action, then the FOX Soccer presenter could flash onscreen the team line-ups or discuss some of the last minute team news or line-up surprises. But the focus of the viewing experience should be (1) creating an authentic atmosphere of anticipation and excitement that builds up to the kick-off time, and (2) providing the necessary team-lineup news the viewer needs to be prepared for the game.
What we don’t want to hear is talking heads babbling on about things that don’t add anything of value other than filling up time. What we crave is authenticity and what better way is there to capture this than showing the live feed from inside the stadium? ESPN2 started doing this at the beginning stage of last season, but they decided to fill it up with studio chatter. FOX Soccer can gain an edge on ESPN2 by providing this type of authentic coverage before each Premier League game so you can hear the voices of the home and away fans trying to sing over each other while the pre-match music plays in the background and the stadium announcer tries to motivate the crowd. That experience makes the viewer feel as if they’re at the stadium. It takes us to a different world.
As soon as the commentator begin their broadcast, FOX Soccer needs to tune in to them. They’ll do a much better job of setting up the match for us so that the excitement levels increase. This is not the time to break for a commercial, FOX, as you hurry back from the break and drop us into the commentary two seconds before kick-off. Letting the commentators set the scene and talk all the way through without interruption is key. And then the game kicks off. During the match itself, there are no changes that FOX Soccer needs to make.
Saturdays, 10:50am-11am ET; half-time
When the whistle blows at the end of the first half, FOX typically breaks into the audio and rushes into commercials. I would recommend FOX Soccer allowing the commentator to finish his thought and then to show the first half highlights (as we see when we watch the live feed on FOXSoccer.tv). And then, when that’s over to break for commercials.
At this stage, I would be fine with FOX Soccer running continuous commercials until the second half is ready to kick off. The 10-15 minutes of interrupted commercials would make up for the time lost when FOX Soccer usually plays commercials before a game starts. But if FOX feels that the advertisers would want a half-time show to build their sponsorships around it, I would scale down the half-time show by only featuring the FOX Soccer presenter who introduced the program and then have an analyst available by live video feed (someone such as Jamie Trecker or Bobby McMahon) to provide their expert analysis on what they saw. The key here is to elevate the dialogue rather than to repeat the obvious. We need to see or hear things from the expert analysis that we didn’t notice in the first half. We seek knowledge to help us better understand what we just saw, or to hear observations that helps enrich our experience of watching the game.
The half-time show should quickly flash up the results from the other matches being played around the country. And then pile on as many commercials as they can before the game starts again. FOX Soccer has to make money, of course.
Saturdays, 11am-11:50am ET; second half
When the teams come out for the beginning of the second half, I want to see that and I want to hear what the commentators are saying, not what the FOX Soccer presenter is babbling about. I want a quick and easy hand-off to the commentators so I can hear what changes have been made or what developments happened during the break. And then the game kicks off and the final whistle blows around 11:50am ET.
Saturdays, 11:55am-12:15pm ET; post-match coverage
Similar to the end of the first half, the live broadcast should stay with the commentators at the end of the second half. Let’s hear their closing thoughts as well as being able to see the goal highlights. Plus, the one other thing that has been missing in the past has been the post-match interviews. If any of these are available with players or managers, they should be shown live so we can get their insight as soon as it happens.
After that’s done, the FOX Soccer presenter should tell the viewers to stick around for the goal highlights from the other 10am ET matches that took place. After the commercials finish, the TV coverage returns where the FOX Soccer presenter simply shows the goal highlights from the other games and brings the viewer up to speed.
There should be 10 minutes of on-air discussion between the FOX Soccer presenter and expert pundit (Trecker or McMahon) to chat about the major storylines of the day from the games that were just played, as well as to start discussing the upcoming match (the 12:30pm ET one) to help with the build-up.
Saturdays, 12:15pm-12:30pm ET; pre-match coverage
Just like the pre-match coverage for the 10am ET kickoff, it’s imperative that the broadcast for the 12:30pm ET game begins at 12:15pm ET when we get to watch the players getting ready in the tunnel and the increasing crescendo of noise from the ground. FOX Soccer can continue to pepper in team line-ups and last minute line-up surprises to add to the broadcast, but the main thrust should be on us seeing and hearing what’s happening at the ground.
Saturdays, 12:30pm ET-2:30pm ET; match coverage
The same formula that FOX Soccer uses for coverage for a Premier League match as stated above for the 10am ET game should be used. Sticking to the formula will be important so that the chances of more FOX Soccer viewers watching the entire broadcast will increase. Right now, many tune in just as the match kicks off, tune out the minute the first half whistle blows, skip half-time, and then tune out when the second half whistle sounds.
Saturdays, 2:30pm-4:30pm ET; Serie A coverage
Serie A coverage
Saturdays, 4:30pm-6:30pm ET; Premier League match shown on delay
With the hindsight of knowing the results and seeing the highlights of all of the Premier League games from the day, the 4:30pm-6:30pm timeslot should be the Premier League match of the day (in its entirety).
Saturdays, 6:30pm-10pm ET; Major League Soccer coverage
Most MLS games on FOX Soccer kick-off at 7pm ET on Saturday nights, so a 6:30pm-7pm pre-match show is perfect. And when the game finishes at 9:30pm, there’s still 30 minutes remaining to conduct the post-match coverage as well as to bring viewers up to speed on highlights from other MLS games or more news from the league. FOX Soccer should own Saturday nights and make it a destination for fans of America’s top flight league.
Saturdays, 10pm-11pm ET; FOX Soccer Report
Same as now except that FOX Soccer Report needs to be transmitted in HD.
Sundays, 9am-10:45am ET; Serie A coverage
FOX Soccer can kick off their Sunday morning coverage with a live Serie A game. After this one, though, especially if the game ends on time, we’ll need FOX Soccer to cut over to their coverage of the Premier League match so that they can do a superb job of building up the anticipation for the 11am ET kick-off.
Sundays, 10:45am-1pm ET; live Premier League match
Just like with the Saturday morning games on FOX Soccer, it’s imperative that the broadcast of the 11am ET kickoff begins as early as possible to show the footage of the players warming up in the tunnel, as well as providing team line-ups and team news.
The rest of the coverage should be the same as what FOX Soccer does (in the imaginary sense) for the Saturday Premier League matches.
Sundays, 1pm-3pm ET; Serie A coverage
Instead of going straight into Super Sunday Plus, it’d be better for FOX Soccer to show another live Serie A match. This way, soccer fans have a guaranteed six hour block of live soccer coverage every Sunday.
Sundays, 3pm-6pm ET; miscellaneous coverage
Between 3pm-6pm ET, the coverage choices are open depending on what rights are available (MLS, re-runs of the best games from the weekend, Women’s Professional Soccer)
Sundays, evenings (times TBD); Super Sunday Plus
While Super Sunday Plus is timely and topical, the level of discourse on the show is not hard-hitting enough. We need to have more Bobby McMahon’s and Jamie Trecker’s and less Kyle Martino’s and Christian Miles. It needs to be a much improved weekend highlights and news show. It’s new time on Sunday evenings will allow the show to be more comprehensive, so it can mention the scores and show the highlights from the games played on Sunday afternoon. As far as the presenters and pundits on the show, I would remove Miles, Martino, Barton and Costigan and replace them with Wynalda, McMahon, Trecker and Christopher Sullivan.
The rest of the week
FOX Soccer’s biggest struggle for Monday morning through Friday night is convincing its own loyal viewers to come back and watch more television. If there are midweek Premier League matches or Champions League games on, then that’s easy. But outside of that, there is far too little programming that is must-see television even for die-hard soccer fans.
FOX Soccer has failed before with Soccer Talk Live and Fox Football Fone-In, but I still believe there’s a place for a caller-driven show about soccer that fans will be passionate about. However, instead of doing one show to satisfy everyone, I believe it’s better to break the show out and do two a week at a minimum. One will be focused on European soccer discussion. The other will be focused on Major League Soccer. In the past, Fox Football Fone-In was too Premier League-centric. Separating the show into two will allow soccer fans to get the best of both worlds — more insightful analysis on the leagues that interest them.
The format of these shows needs to be changed though. Two hours is too long. One hour is perfect. Instead of having two talking heads in front of the TV camera, it should be one presenter who then pulls in experts for their insight. Soccer Talk Live was on to something good when they interviewed Chad Ochocinco and Joe Scarborough via Skype video chat. That format works well. Except, instead of only interviewing celebrities, the presenter of the new call-in show should interview experts such as bloggers like The Swiss Ramble, Michael Cox and ArseBlogger, as well as podcasters such as Anto from Beyond The Pitch, Kartik Krishnaiyer and Dotun Adebayo.
By breaking the show out into two, MLS fans will be happier because they’ll have more air-time. And the same thing applies to European soccer fans who only want to talk European football.
As for the rest of the week, I’d love to see more classic games shown on FOX Soccer (FA Cup Finals from the 70s, 80s and 90s, as one example) as well as more original programming. Christopher Sullivan could do a series on soccer formations and tactics. Bobby McMahon could do an interview show where he sits down with a different guest each week to talk soccer.
And then Friday night can culminate in Soccer Night In America, where FOX Soccer focuses on a live MLS game and expert analysis.
And then on Saturday, everything starts again.
What are your thoughts on the above recommendations of how to improve FOX Soccer? Do you have ideas for programming that aren’t listed above? If so, share your opinions and ideas below in the comments section.