With NBC Sports Network announcing their Premier League coverage plans for next season, the end is near for FOX Soccer.
Next season will see the UEFA Champions League, Europa League, CONCACAF Champion’s League and the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup tournaments shown on the new FOX Sports 1. FOX Soccer will become FXX, a sister channel to FX.
These remaining weeks in the European season will see the end of FOX Soccer in its current form. And I couldn’t be happier about it.
The channel’s coverage and programming has gone slowly downhill the last few years, just when one would have expected the channel to push on as the sport grew in popularity. Instead, a number of mistakes mean the channel is being outperformed in terms of the quality of coverage by nearly every other soccer channel on the market.
Let’s give credit where it’s due though. FOX Soccer has done a lot to further the popularity of the game in this country. It’s because of FOX Soccer that I am a fan today, and that I have been able to further my education every single weekend.
The channel obviously reached a point not long ago where they felt they needed to enhance their own coverage, and that’s where the mistakes were made. The first mistake was Rob Stone. The channel brought him over from ESPN to lead their live studio coverage of high profile games. Rob Stone is a good general presenter; he hardly ever fumbles, is never lost on what to say, he always fills the time he needs to. But Rob Stone is not a good soccer presenter. He doesn’t have a good enough tactical understanding of the game to ask the analysts interesting questions. He asks the obvious questions about the simplest parts of the game. His simplicity hinders a lot of what is said in studio. He also doesn’t use the right language and invents his own terminology to tell people about the “second half kick” or other silly terms he coins himself. Each sport has its own lingo, and if the people presenting the game don’t use that lingo, they lose credibility.
This is just part of the general overall problem at FOX Soccer. It’s this idea that the sport needs to be shown and presented through an American perspective for people to understand it. It doesn’t. The game has attracted enough of a niche audience that we don’t need to be talked down to. FOX Soccer has risked alienating the majority of its fans by trying to attract new ones.
It’s not as if the channel doesn’t have smart and unique pundits. Bobby McMahon, who was the staple of the old Fox Soccer Report, was the man the channel should have built their coverage around. He has an insight unmatched by anyone working at the network, and yet has been relegated to minor appearances on the new FOX Soccer News program.
Also, Brian McBride is growing in confidence and is starting to get more comfortable in getting his analysis across. The few times he speaks during the studio coverage, his observations are generally well thought out and offer unique analyses on what we’ve just seen. It’s a shame that he’s been overshadowed by Warren Barton and Eric Wynalda, neither of whom offer anything more than joking with Rob Stone.
Personnel mistakes aside, FOX Soccer has also made mistakes in acquiring rights recently. The channel has been forced out of existence because they put all their money into getting the rights to the Premier League, Champions League, and World Cup 2018. They were never going to be able to have both the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League for long; and lo and behold, they are outbid at the very next bidding cycle. And now that other networks have come along (primarily beIN Sport) and scooped up most of the other European rights, FOX Soccer can’t remain a network only showing Champions League games midweek and a World Cup in five years.
The final nail in the coffin was the joke that FOX Soccer has become due to the amateurish soccer commentating by Gus Johnson. FOX Soccer established themselves over 16 years of hard work only for them to ruin their legacy by elevating a joke of an announcer into the most high-profile soccer games of the 2012-13 season. Everything that they had been built has been ruined by one cataclysmic decision.
If the network had tried to stay more continental by buying out GolTV’s contract with the Bundesliga or sub-licensing Bundesliga games, or tried to beat out beIN SPORT for the nPower Championship or tried harder to build a better product when they had MLS games, maybe they would still be around next season. Instead, soccer fans across the country will lose a huge part of why they’ve become fans. It’s a shame in many ways; but given the downward trajectory the network has taken recently, it’s not entirely unwanted either.