FOX today pulled the plug on FOX Soccer, the 24/7 soccer network, that was replaced by FXX — a new comedy channel — at 6am ET.
After debuting in November 1997 as FOX Sports World, the channel was later renamed as Fox Soccer Channel before becoming simply FOX Soccer. Despite 16 years of hard work by the network, all that hard work and brand equity will disappear today forever.
Despite FOX Soccer entering the TV graveyard, it’s important to note that the sport will still continue to be shown on US television, but in a very different fashion than what we’re used to. FOX Soccer Plus will carry on. So too will FOX Soccer 2 Go. And there’ll always be soccer now and again on FOX’s new networks FOX Sports 1 and FOX Sports 2, sandwiched in between NASCAR, UFC, college football and other American sports.
To be frank, my experience watching FOX Soccer (and working with them behind-the-scenes to procure the information I needed to share with you, the reader) has been a love-hate relationship. There were so many high points, but there have been many low points too.
Here are my picks for some of the highs and lows of FOX Soccer’s history:
1. A game changer. There’s no doubt that we soccer fans would not be where we are today if it wasn’t for FOX Soccer and its vital role the network played in growing the popularity of the sport in the United States. When soccer matches on television weren’t accessible, they made them readily available. When the Internet was still a fad, FOX Soccer in its early years was a vital source of news and content on television. But more importantly, it was a shared experience that we soccer fans could tune into. In the beginning, FOX Soccer was our dream come true — 24/7 soccer, all the time, anytime.
2. Fox Football Friday. In August, 2007, Fox Soccer Channel launched a brand-new show entitled Fox Football Friday, which would later morph into Fox Football Fone-In. Hosted by Steven Cohen and Nick Geber, the show was exactly what the network needed, with a mixture of personality and enthusiasm. From its humble beginnings in a set that looked like a living room to the call-in show it later became, the show was one of the few home-grown productions by FSC that was a success.
3. Studio sets. We’ve been so spoiled with the UEFA Champions League sets that FOX has been using for the past 12-15 months that whenever we see FOX Soccer use their old set on Sepulveda Blvd for Europa League, it literally feels like the broadcast is going back in time. The current sets they’ve been using are spacious, bright and make the coverage look better than it is.
4. Bobby McMahon. FOX Soccer pundit Bobby McMahon was the crown jewel of the network with his encyclopedic knowledge of the beautiful game. Unfortunately he wasn’t utilized by FOX as much as he should have been.
5. The unsung heroes. Over the 16 years of FOX Soccer’s history, there were so many hard-working individuals that burned the midnight oil in order to produce the best possible soccer product they could put on the air. Many of them were behind the camera, people who were passionate about the sport. But that also includes the people in front of the camera who often awoke at an ungodly hour to come in to the studio to begin their day. Thank you.
1. Out of touch, out of mind. The biggest mistake that FOX Soccer made in the more recent years of its 16-year history was that the network lost touch of who their audience was. In previous years, FOX had its pulse on what soccer fans wanted to hear and see, but when FOX began to try to appeal to a more mainstream audience, it dumbed down its content and tried to attract a new, mainstream audience. FOX could have done it in the same way that ESPN and NBC did when it covered soccer by being intelligent and informative, but it went with an approach that — in my opinion — failed. FOX pissed off the hardcore soccer fan, and didn’t attract the mainstream audience either. The network lost sight of the hardcore fan base that helped FOX Soccer grow and flourish.
Unfortunately, the lasting impression of FOX Soccer is a sour one, which doesn’t bode well for the network given that they have a huge mountain to climb to win back fans for World Cup 2018 and 2022.
2. FOX Soccer Goes to Hollywood. After Fox Soccer Channel head-honcho David Sternberg left the network (to later become a top executive at Manchester United after working at NBC Universal), FOX Sports brought in a new executive who tried to turn the network into a Hollywood experiment. That included a range of new twists, most of which were failures. The first was the weekly TV show Soccer Talk Live, that tried to be an entertainment show about soccer, almost a Tonight Show format with special guests who would come on for a chat. While the show had some decent guests in later shows, it was too late. The damage had already been done.
The second was hiring A-list celebrities such as Piers Morgan to provide their analysis and opinions. While provoking, the experiment didn’t work because he lacked credibility. One of many examples of the idiotic things he said was that Manchester United’s David de Gea was the worst goalkeeper in the Premier League.
The third was the Being: Liverpool documentary. While it was a bold and adventurous decision to team up with an acclaimed director to produce a behind-the-scenes documentary about one of the greatest clubs in English football history, the execution was poor. Instead of being a fly-on-the-wall documentary, it ended up being a sanitized and censored version of what actually happened, which resulted in the documentary being interesting but lacking grit or true reality.
3. FOX Soccer Plus. More than 3.5 years after FOX’s second soccer network launched, some TV providers (including Comcast) still don’t offer the service.
4. FOXSoccer.tv and FOX Soccer 2Go technical issues. The history of technical issues that FOXSoccer.tv and FOX Soccer 2Go experienced were embarrassing. Eventually after many weekends ruined and frustrating experiences, FOX finally got its FOX Soccer 2Go product running without any headaches. But the early years of both products were excruciating at times, and incredibly disappointing.
5. The analysis. If I had to pinpoint the biggest weakness at FOX Soccer throughout the entire history of the network, it was their poor tactical analysis. There were some pundits who were better than others, but it was far too easy for many of these pundits just to be talking heads without saying anything of value. The viewers caught on early, which is why many of them seemed only interested in tuning in right before kick-offs.
6. Gus Johnson.
What are some of the highs and lows of FOX Soccer’s 16-year history that we forgot to mention? Post your suggestions in the comments section below.