Premier League soccer on TV is at an important crossroads in the United States. The interest in the league is growing by such leap and bounds that several Premier League matches have graduated from FOX Soccer to the free-to-air FOX network (Sunday’s Arsenal-Man United game scored an 0.9 rating). However, with these changes come growing pains. For TV viewing numbers to grow from 300,000-500,000 to 1.5 million and beyond, Premier League matches have to be shown on national free-to-air networks such as FOX instead of niche sports channels like FOX Soccer. But in order to do so, it takes the cooperation of more than 100 FOX stations nationwide to each show the game at the same time, and that’s not an easy feat.
That begs the question: For Premier League soccer to move more into the mainstream, is it worth the pain of having games on FOX? Not that we have a choice or much control in the matter, but should FOX Soccer continue the policy of showing select Premier League matches on FOX in order for the sport to grow in this country? If so, isolated soccer fans across the United States will be at the mercy of their local FOX affiliates and may not be able to watch live matches. But if we are to break on through to the other side and get larger viewing audiences, we will have to persevere with local FOX stations, and get on their backs when they decide not to show matches live.
Or should we? We could continue to have Super Sunday games shown live on FOX Soccer where we’re guaranteed that if the schedule says it’ll be on TV, it’ll be on. Share your feedback in the comments below regarding which method you prefer, and whether you care about the growth of the Premier League and soccer because let’s face it — the two best hopes for soccer making it bigger in America is either the US men’s national team winning a World Cup, or the Premier League becoming part of the US sports fabric.
The addition of Arsenal versus Manchester United to FOX’s calendar was a decision that was made on December 5, 2011. According to an industry source, because FOX put Arsenal vs Manchester United on the FOX broadcast network with less than 6 months notice, FOX affiliates not owned by NewsCorp were under no obligation to clear the time slot for the match. Thus we arrived at yesterday’s situation where six of the major markets in the United States didn’t show the game live, while there were 14 other FOX stations in smaller markets who did the same.
Disappointing and frustrating, yes. But why did it take an exclusive story by EPL Talk on Saturday morning to be the first to make viewers (and soccer fans) aware that the game wasn’t going to be shown live in some markets? The way that FOX viewers were treated in those markets that were affected is disgraceful. For several weeks, we’ve seen advertising on FOX stations across the United States that promoted #EpicSunday. And then many of those stations didn’t even show the game live. And many of the ones that showed it on delay then didn’t air it in HD.
To make matters worse, the programming that aired instead of the live Arsenal-Manchester United game was, depending on the FOX station, an assortment of infomercials (see above), a rerun of the flop Corky Romano, church programming and/or reruns of local programming. Each of the FOX stations listed below should be ashamed of the way they handled the situation.
At the same time, there was little to no response on social media from the FOX stations (or FOX Sports, as they promised). The only official response I saw from one of the FOX stations was to pass the buck. Unless I missed it (if so, please let me know in the comments section below), soccer fans venting on Facebook and Twitter were ignored by FOX stations on social media. The silence was deafening.
Remember that the fight is far from over. When Chelsea plays Manchester United on February 5, Super Bowl Sunday, and the game kicks off at 11am ET, there’s no guarantee that your local FOX station is going to show the game live. And you won’t be able to watch it live on FOX Soccer. That next game is only 13 days away, so it’s never too early to begin contacting your FOX station to ask whether they’ll be showing it live. And applying pressure on them to ensure they don’t make the same mistake again that they did yesterday.
If you think this is a one-time occurrence, think again. While there should be fewer issues with FOX stations not showing live Premier League games because they’ve been given adequate notice ahead of time, FOX Sports plans on showing select Premier League Super Sunday matches on the free-to-air FOX network next season, and may add one more than what they’ve shown this season. Read the interesting interview with a FOX Sports Media Group executive.
Here are the FOX stations that should be embarrassed by their decision not to show the game live (that aired infomercials and reruns instead).
FOX stations Hall of Shame:
- WSVN (Miami/Fort Lauderdale),
- WAGA (Atlanta),
- WITI (Milwaukee),
- WJW (Cleveland),
- WRAZ (Raleigh/Durham),
- WXIN (Indianapolis),
- WBRC (Birmingham),
- KHMT (Billings),
- WXXV (Biloxi),
- WICZ (Binghamton),
- WHNS (Greenville),
- WZDX (Huntsville),
- WGXA (Macon),
- KPTM (Omaha),
- WFXR (Roanoke),
- WTGS (Savannah),
- KRBK (Springfield, MO),
- WTHI (Terre Haute),
- WTRF (Wheeling),
- WYFX (Youngstown).
PS — For those of you who had a chance to watch the FOX broadcast, I should add that the actual production was FOX’s best yet for their Super Sunday matches on the free-to-air network. Rob Stone looked tired under his makeup, but he played the role as host well, while I found Piers Morgan and Eric Wynalda to both be adequate. The analysis wasn’t explosive, but I found Morgan’s opinions to be heartfelt and opinionated. It’s just a shame that not everyone had a chance to see it live.