Now we know that the Manchester derby will be shown on ESPN2 in late April, there’s very little chance that FOX will decide to squeeze a live Premier League game into its free-to-air programming between now and the end of this season. For those viewers who have local FOX stations unwilling to show games live, that’s excellent news. We can all now continue knowing that all games will be shown live, either on FOX Soccer, FOX Soccer Plus, FOX Soccer 2Go or ESPN2 and ESPN3.com.
But it begs the question about what FOX will do on their free-to-air network next Premier League season. In a recent interview, a FOX executive has already said that the free-to-air network plans on showing Premier League matches next season, and will possibly show one more than what they currently did in the 2011-12 season.
However, I believe it’s time to face the facts and realize that Sunday mornings at eleven o’clock may be a time that we’re all used to, but the time slot isn’t convenient for the majority of U.S. residents who are either at church, on the west coast, or doing activities that don’t require sitting around a TV set on a Sunday morning. The TV ratings show that the 11am ET matches shown live on FOX aren’t as large as the matches shown on tape delay on a Sunday mid-to-late afternoon timeslot.
Sunday 11am ET live games on FOX:
- 0.9 rating — Arsenal vs Man United, January 22, 2012 (Piers Morgan appearance)
- 1.0 rating — Chelsea against Manchester United, February 5, 2012 (Piers Morgan appearance)
In comparison, the 2011 MLS Cup got a 0.8 rating during a prime-time Sunday broadcast in November.
My recommendation is simple. Show the 11am ET live Premier League games on FOX Soccer. And when FOX has an opening in their schedule, they should show select Premier League matches on tape delay on the free-to-air network. Preferably, FOX will air the tape delay games next to NFL programming, with tape delay kickoffs at 2pm or 4:30pm ET.
Looking at the above ratings, I believe tape delay games on FOX are the way to go. The die-hard fans can watch the games live on FOX Soccer, while the casual and mainstream sports fans can watch the games on delay at a time that is not only the most convenient, but also the most likely to attract new viewers.
I also think that FOX should say goodbye to Piers Morgan. Looking at the above ratings numbers, you can see how two tape delayed games without Morgan did better than two live matches where he was a pundit. The record breaking numbers for the Chelsea against Liverpool game were impressive, but I believe the inclusion of Piers Morgan had little to do with it.
Instead of featuring Piers Morgan, FOX should take the valuable 30-minutes pre-game time and show highlights of the goals from other Premier League games instead. FOX could either bring viewers up-to-date with everything that has happened in the Premier League since the last time they aired an EPL match on the free-to-air network. Or FOX could show goal highlights from all of the games played that weekend. The mainstream audience doesn’t need 30 minutes of mediocre analysis. Instead that time should be used to sell the sport, sell the league and sell the excitement. Talking heads are not the solution. Instead, show 25 minutes of goal highlights followed by five minutes of analysis before the game starts. That’s enough time to set the stage and give viewers an idea of the major points to look out for in the game.
If you’re wondering where Eric Wynalda, Rob Stone and Warren Barton fit in, Rob Stone can open up the programming and talk through the opening 25 minutes of Premier League highlights, and then switch to the team of Wynalda and Barton for their 5-minutes of pre-match setup. The trio would then be perfect for an informative half-time analysis show, as well as a few minutes of final thoughts after the game ends.
FOX has the opportunity to grow soccer in the United States by bringing tape-delayed broadcasts of the Premier League, the most exciting and action-packed league in the world, into the homes of Americans who are used to watching sports on a Sunday afternoon. Viewing of Premier League matches on Sunday mornings, meanwhile, should continue to be aired live on FOX Soccer to the loyal soccer die-hards who have helped grow FOX Soccer into what it is today, a flourishing niche sports network that isn’t at the mercy of local affiliates nationwide who can choose to preempt programming with infomercials and other shows.