Don’t be alarmed, but could this be the final season of the Premier League televised on FOX Soccer in the United States?
In early October, we’ll discover who’ll win the US media rights to the English Premier League for seasons 2013-16. If FOX Soccer loses the rights to beIN SPORT, the consequences could be enormous — even potentially signaling the end of FOX Soccer, the channel. After all, if FOX Soccer loses the Premier League TV rights for next season, what does FOX Soccer have left other than Champions League, the Women’s World Cup (in 2015), the FIFA World Cup (in 2018 and 2022), FA Cup and not much else?
Needless to say, the bidding war for the Premier League on US television could completely change the soccer landscape in the United States forever.
How so? If FOX did lose the EPL rights, or even if they win them, there’s the chance that FOX could shut down FOX Soccer, FUEL and SPEED and replace the channels with their FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports 2 and FOX Sports 3 concept — which would be a mashup of the different sports rights that FOX Sports currently owns. The idea of a sports network to rival ESPN (and now beIN SPORT) is still on the table, and remains a possibility in the near to distant future.
While a trio of FOX Sports channels would be a wise business move for News Corp., it would jeopardize the soccer TV viewing experience in the United States. We’d then be reduced to a giant sports network that only shows limited soccer games (ESPN), a 24/7 soccer network that has lost most of its major rights deals (GolTV), a network with relatively small TV ratings and not much visibility (NBC Sports Network) and a burgeoning soccer network that’s in its infancy but isn’t available to the vast majority of soccer fans nationwide (beIN SPORT).
Our comfortable viewing experience of watching every soccer each week on the most accessible soccer network could be nearing its end, or not.
However, change could be good. If beIN SPORT wins the US media rights to the Premier League for 2013-16, perhaps the quality of coverage will be far superior to FOX Soccer as well as having a robust streaming package to make sure we don’t miss a game? Or if FOX Soccer retains the rights, it’ll be the ideal bridge to help carry soccer fans from next season through to 2016 as FOX gets closer to its coverage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
The point is that no one really knows what the future holds — not FOX Soccer, not beIN SPORT, not the Premier League. There are many open questions that will be answered in the coming weeks. If beIN SPORT wins the US media rights to the 2013-16 Premier League, it will dislodge FOX Soccer as the leading soccer network in the United States. If FOX Soccer wins the rights, how much will it have to pay to beat beIN SPORT, and will News Corp. keep FOX Soccer on air as the dominant go-to soccer network in this country?
No matter what happens, FOX deserves credit for helping make soccer as popular as it is in the United States today. A recent survey revealed that soccer is the second most popular sport among Americans 12-24 years old. And while ESPN enjoyed record-breaking viewing audiences for the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, a large part of the gratitude needs to go to FOX Soccer for turning a cult sport in the United States into a mainstream success. The accessibility of a channel devoted to soccer 24/7 helped grew the sport in this country, taking us out of the dark ages and allowing soccer fans nationwide to share a common interest, while creating plenty of new fans, too.
For the first time in its history, FOX Soccer has a major rival in its midst. ESPN has never been a direct competitor. It’s been more of a friendly neighbor to FOX, while Setanta and GolTV were red-headed stepchildren. But beIN SPORT has incredibly deep pockets, has cherry-picked all of the major soccer rights away from FOX and GolTV during the past 9 months, and looks set on building a TV empire.
I don’t expect FOX to go down without a fight, but this will be a story that any soccer fan in the United States will want to pay close attention to, whether you’re a fan of the Premier League or not.