Last week, when news filtered in that FOX Soccer and ESPN’s joint bid to continue showing Premier League soccer for three more years had failed, an insider revealed to EPL Talk that the atmosphere in the FOX Soccer headquarters felt like someone had just died.
Coverage of the English Premier League has been FOX Soccer’s number one priority since the network began as Fox Sports World, which was renamed Fox Soccer Channel before becoming simply FOX Soccer. Without the Premier League in its stable of media rights after May 2013, FOX Soccer’s programming guide looks particularly stark.
FOX Soccer finds itself at a crossroads. They can either try to rebuild by picking up other TV rights to beef up their 2013-14 schedule, or they could decide to dissolve FOX Soccer next year and turn it into a FOX Sports 2 or FOX Sports 3 channel, where they would offer viewers a variety of different sports programming including a limited soccer offering (choosing from the Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup and England home matches, as well as smaller leagues). FOX also has US rights to the Women’s World Cup (2015) and FIFA World Cup tournaments (2018 and 2022), but those are still in the distant future.
FOX finds itself in an uncomfortable position. beIN SPORT has the rights to La Liga, the Championship and Serie A. NBC will have the rights to EPL, as well as the current rights to MLS. ESPN has some USMNT games in addition to FIFA World Cup 2014 and Euro 2016. Other than that, there isn’t much left that’s strong enough to lead or build a channel around.
The channel could try to pick up additional rights such as the Bundesliga from GolTV, but the TV ratings would be far less than what it enjoys with the Premier League.
Additionally, without the Premier League, FOX Soccer 2Go becomes practically worthless after May 2013. And the future of FOX Soccer Plus appears bleak if there’s no FOX Soccer around.
Based on the options available to FOX Soccer, the best decision may be to pull the plug next year and then show what rights it has across it’s anticipated FOX Sports # channels.
While FOX Soccer has raised the bar on its coverage of Premier League soccer in the United States, it has made a lot of mistakes. FOX’s Americanization of FOX Soccer resulted in a far greater expenditure with mixed results:
— The launch of a Hollywood-style TV chat show entitled Soccer Talk Live was a flop.
— Canceling FOX Football Fone-In and not replacing it with a caller-driven show was a mistake.
— FOX’s focus on bringing in American talent such as Kyle Martino, Kasey Keller, Rob Stone and Brian McBride was misguided. FOX Soccer “pushed out” their crown jewel of its coverage, veteran pundit Bobby McMahon, which was the best thing the channel had going for them. (The number of ex-pats in front of the camera at FOX Soccer were reduced to Warren Barton and Keith Costigan; far fewer than in the past), and
— The money spent producing “Being: Liverpool” could have been better spent by allocating that towards a larger bid for EPL media rights.