The Battle of the Daily Soccer US TV Shows: ESPN FC vs FOX Soccer Daily

In the last two weeks, we’ve seen two new daily soccer news programs launch on American television — FOX Soccer Daily and ESPN FC.

The addition of these two new shows meant that we bid adieu to their predecessors. FOX Soccer Daily debuted today on FOX Sports 1, replacing FOX Soccer News, the Toronto-based program that was produced in partnership with Rogers. Meanwhile, ESPN pulled the plug on the US broadcast of ESPN Press Pass during late July in time for the August 11 launch of ESPN FC on US television.

Comparing the two programs at this early stage provides a vivid contrast. ESPN FC has proven to be a program that features a wide array of personalities, pundits and opinions. The program’s two rotating hosts, Dan Thomas and Max Bretos, are experienced presenters that have covered the game for years. Thomas’s style on ESPN Press Pass was to push his guests on controversial subjects, where he excelled in generating an environment where vibrant discussions were commonplace. The likes of Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop, Steve Nicol, Taylor Twellman and Gab Marcotti are opinionated and have shown an ability to respectfully stake out positions perhaps outside the mainstream of prevailing thought but with merit. After a rocky start the first night, ESPN FC has been thoroughly entertaining and engrossing since. Though my one critique is that with a run-time of 30 minutes, the show tries to cram too much into each episode. For example, in today’s episode, it would have been better to have a longer feature with The Guardian‘s Raphael Honigstein on the Bundesliga, but the format didn’t allow for a discussion longer than just a few minutes about this past weekend in Germany.

In comparison, FOX Soccer Daily doesn’t have the wide variety of talented pundits or commentators that ESPN FC offers. Host Julie Stewart-Binks is hardly a veteran soccer expert, but she showed her professionalism in the first show where she grasped topics as varied as Jose Mourinho, Barcelona and Landon Donovan. While Eric Wynalda is generally excellent and opinionated, his views seemed scripted and even forced in the initial show. Likewise, Warren Barton’s comments were predictable. Both will certainly grow into this format as they partnered well with Rob Stone on FOX Soccer’s Premier League coverage prior to the channel losing the league’s rights to NBC Sports.

FOX Soccer Daily‘s insider is Grant Wahl, who is well versed on US soccer news, but doesn’t have the depth of reporting that the ESPN FC team has. He’s no competition for Marcotti, Honigstein or Sid Lowe.

In both ESPN FC and FOX Soccer Daily, the broadcasters have made coverage of Major League Soccer and the US national team a major priorty. But when it comes to covering the global game, FOX’s program will offer some good analysis from Wynalda and Barton, but FOX Soccer Daily will not have the variety of in-depth opinions that ESPN’s team will provide. As a side note, the ESPN FC has also made some coverage of Mexican club soccer a priority.

Overall, my biggest complaint about FOX Soccer Daily are the obnoxious, on-screen graphics that take up practically half the screen and distract the viewer from the highlights and discussions. The presentation of ESPN FC is cleaner and more subtle, to say the least.

For soccer fans in the United States, it’s wonderful to have both programs on mainstream television, offering a variety of opinions and more exposure to the sport of soccer in this country. However at this early stage, it appears ESPN has developed a more complete and watchable program despite FOX’s debut show not being as poor as I had first feared.

It would be remiss of me if I didn’t comment on the retirement of the FOX Soccer News and ESPN Press Pass shows. Although many of you may disagree with me, the much maligned FOX Soccer News program will be sorely missed. The nightly soccer show offered more highlights from across the globe than either ESPN FC or FOX Soccer Daily. In my opinion, the Canadian-based show was perhaps the most informative hour of soccer on US television. The show featured expert opinions from the cast including Winnipeg-based Bobby McMahon, who has long been considered among the most informed observers of the game on North American television. Unfortunately, it appears that none of these excellent, opinionated pundits will have a role on the new FOX show.

Equally, ESPN Press Pass was a jewel of expert opinions that was overlooked by many due to it being televised in the middle of the night in the United States.

ESPN FC airs nightly on ESPN2 weeknights at 5:30pm ET and Sunday nights beginning at midnight. FOX Soccer Daily airs daily on FOX Sports 1 at 4pm ET.

What’s your opinion about ESPN FC and FOX Soccer Daily? Give us your viewpoints in the comments section below.

38 Comments

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