Why FOX’s Plans for Premier League Survival Sunday Make Me Nervous

I should be giddy with delight about FOX’s plans for Premier League Survival Sunday, but I’m nervous. And here’s why.

After Thursday’s wonderful news that FOX Sports Media Group and ESPN will team together to show all ten Premier League games live on the last day of the season, I did what many of you probably did — I checked to see if my TV provider even carries the networks that will be showing some of the games.

I’ve never watched SPEED or FUEL TV before, so I’ve never bothered to check to see if my cable company had the networks, until yesterday. Thankfully I get those, as well as FSN and, of course, FOX Soccer. My TV provider (Comcast) still doesn’t offer FOX Soccer Plus, but hopefully that match will be shown live on FOX Soccer 2Go. I know I already have FSN and FX, while FOXSoccer.com will show one of the nine games live. And then last, but not least, my cable company offers FOX Deportes, but since I’m not signed up for the Spanish language package, I don’t get that one either. Again, hopefully that match will also be available live on FOX Soccer 2Go. Or, if not, that the match won’t be a must-see.

Interestingly, what I can reveal is that ESPN2 will have the first pick out of the 10 Premier League matches on the final day. A decision on which one match they’ll show isn’t expected until after the Manchester derby on April 30, so we’ll have to wait and see which match they’ll pick. My guess is that they’d prefer to feature a match that had either Champions League qualification ramifications or, of course, a top of the table decider instead of a relegation battle.

Over the years, I’ve become accustomed to watching several matches at once. It’s quite overwhelming at first, but over time, it becomes easier. The most number of matches I’ve watched at a single time is seven — two on my flat-screen TV with the picture-in-picture option showing matches side-by-side, four on one laptop with ESPN3.com’s Mosaic feature, and then one on FOX Soccer 2Go. But trying to navigate ten games across 8 TV networks is going to be something else. I’m sure I’ll be using my remote control to flip back and forth like a mad man between many of the channels.

While Survival Sunday may not have the 81 possible different relegation scenarios that we faced on the final day of last season, I’m still excited about watching the incredible drama unfold. But deep down, I feel like a guinea pig. While I’m very pleased that FOX Sports and ESPN have teamed together to show all of the final matches live across their networks, it feels like an experiment by FOX. Bloomberg reported last month that FOX executives are considering a plan to create nationwide all-sports networks to rival ESPN. If those plans come to fruition, it’s possible that FOX Soccer, SPEED, FUEL TV and FOX Soccer Plus could become FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports 2, FOX Sports 3 and FOX Sports 4, where the networks would show a variety of sports such as college football, college basketball and soccer.

FOX having a brand of FOX Sports 1 through 4 would be more attractive to advertisers, distributors and to FOX itself. By combining its sports programming into different channels, FOX could generate more revenue rather than selling advertising on niche channels such as soccer and motor racing. The example I gave earlier of me never having watched a second of FUEL TV or SPEED is a perfect example of why I, as a consumer, would be more likely to watch FOX Sports 1-4 than just one niche soccer channel. The same can be said for the 36 million subscribers to FUEL TV, many of whom have probably not watched FOX Soccer.

While it makes economic sense, it’s a nervous time for soccer fans especially if significant changes would happen in the future and FOX Soccer would go away, replaced by soccer programming that would be spread across several networks. We still may get as many soccer games as we get to see now, but there would be far more question marks — for example, whether American sports would preempt previously scheduled soccer games, and whether the coverage and analysis would improve or get worse, especially if shows were presented by American jock presenters who wouldn’t know the language of the beautiful game.

So, while I’m glad that the popularity of the Premier League is bigger than it’s ever been before, I’m nervous about what the Survival Sunday experience will tell FOX Sports, and what changes we may see as a result as early as next year. They’re not showing all nine games out of the goodness of their heart. They’re a business that needs to maximize revenues. While customer satisfaction is important, satisfying parent company’s News Corp [NWS] stockholders is the goal. Where that leaves us after May 13, we’ll have to wait and see.


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