Earlier this year, I was very critical of FOX’s coverage of the Champions League Final where they seemingly ostracized soccer fans in favor of attracting a mainstream audience. During the broadcast, they dumbed down the coverage so much that neither soccer fans nor casual observers were satisfied with the coverage.
So when FOX announced that they were going to be showing a Premier League game on their free-to-air channel, I was half expecting that the network would make the same mistakes. Thankfully, I was wrong.
FOX’s taped-day coverage of the September 18 game between Manchester United and Chelsea was the perfect balance between attracting new viewers and keeping their current soccer fans satisfied. While the coverage wasn’t enlightening, it was watchable and didn’t stray into embarrassing segments or discussions as FOX was prone to doing during the Champions League Final.
The trio of Eric Wynalda, Cobi Jones and — surprise, surprise — Vinnie Jones worked well together. I’ve been a big fan of Wynalda for a while, especially when he’s in the role of host where he shines. Cobi was Cobi. Nothing spectacular, but he’ll rarely say something stupid. But new addition Vinnie Jones was better than average. He fit in perfectly, but seemed to know what he was talking about, and didn’t sound scripted at all (and didn’t look as stiff as Warren Barton appears at times).
I didn’t mind the pre-match primer for Premier League newbies that described how a champion is determined over a course of a season and how many points are awarded for a win, draw and loss. I didn’t mind the swaying Geoff Shreeves either, teasing the viewer with an Andre Villas-Boas in the background.
The one big advantage for me was watching the game in HD. I’m one of those sad Comcast Cable customers who dreams of FOX Soccer in HD, and didn’t mind watching the match again just to see how much better the picture was. Torres’s miss looked even worse in HD, by the way.
On to the game itself. At least the soccer haters in America couldn’t complain that the game between Manchester United and Chelsea was a drab nil-nil draw. Chris Smalling’s opening goal, despite being offside, was exactly what the FOX executives needed to hopefully hold the attention of mainstream America who accidentally tuned in to watch the clash between the two giants of the Premier League/
As most of us know, many televised games from Old Trafford are cursed by Manchester United monopolizing the possession and chances. But in this back-and-forth match, Chelsea had plenty of chances which added to the excitement for the neutral observer.
This was a game that had almost everything. Nani’s brilliant goal to make it two-nil United. Wayne Rooney scored the third courtesy of a wonderful hustle by Phil Jones. An exceptional goal from Torres after the second half kicked off. Rooney missing a penalty. And then that miss by Torres.
The one aspect of FOX’s coverage that I found surprising was that there were no plugs for FOX Soccer (unless I missed any?). I was waiting at the end to see an on-screen graphic telling viewers where they could watch live Premier League games each weekend. But all FOX did was to promote the tape-delay Premier League games scheduled for October and November.
Lastly, thumbs down to FOX in Chicago and Tampa for deciding not to show the taped delay coverage of the Premier League match either at 2pm or 4:30pm local time.