American fans of the beautiful game have, by and large, lauded NBC’s coverage of the Premier League. Many of those same fans were dissatisfied with how FOX Soccer and the other FOX Networks covered the Premier League prior to losing the rights to NBC Sports Group.
FOX treated the Premier League like a property that it could simply throw on air, broadcast with minimal effort or production and maintain an audience. But FOX never really grew the audience of the league beyond the growing popularity of the sport in general in this country. The single best thing FOX did to increase exposure and interest in the league was sub-licensing games to ESPN.
The criticism of FOX was consistent and well founded. However, today it appears that, without articulating it, FOX has taken the criticism to heart and have made some changes to how it covers its remaining blue-chip soccer property, the UEFA Champions League.
Exposed to a larger audience on FOX Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 as well as more frequent broadcasts on FOX Sports various regional networks, the network has raised its game in noticeable ways.
The pre-game show hosted by Rob Stone features deeper analysis and more real discussion about the teams in a broader context as well more highlights and a professional presentation for the games. The studio commentator talent of Brian McBride, Eric Wynalda and Warren Barton appear more prepared and less reactionary/rash in their judgments about players, managers, teams and managers than in previous seasons.
On Tuesday when Celtic-Barca ended before Ajax-Milan was completed, FOX Sports 1 mimicked NBCSN and switched games. The next day FOX Sports 1 did the same thing, throwing on the scintillating Juventus-Galatasaray conclusion for viewers to see. This demonstrated that FOX had learned new tricks to bring a few minutes of Champions League matches, even from the premium FOX Soccer Plus, to a wider audience.
The wrap-up show after the matches has been stronger than in past years and Europa League coverage has improved as well.
It’s still early in the 2013-14 season, but it appears that after years of malaise, FOX has upped its game. Finally.