FOX Sports coverage of soccer can be measured two ways.
1- Against previous poor FOX Sports and FOX Soccer efforts, or
2- Against the superior coverage provided by NBC or ESPN for similar competitions.
In this analysis, we’ll attempt to weigh both sides of this equation. Has FOX Sports improved its coverage versus the past and are they now comparable to ESPN or NBC Sports?
With FOX acquiring the global rights for the Bundesliga beginning with the 2015-16 season, hopes were high that a league that has suffered from underexposure in the United States would emerge as a strong rival to the Premier League in terms of interest among the growing number of fans of soccer in the country.
The high-hopes that many entered the summer of 2015 with were quickly dashed when World Soccer Talk reported that FOX planned to dump many of its biggest games the first two months of the season on to FOX Soccer Plus, a pay TV channel. To their credit, FOX quickly shifted gears and moved many games to FS1 and FS2.
In the second half of the season FOX over-the-air showed a number of games, though some affiliates like WSVN in Miami/Fort Lauderdale (typically a top ten market nationally for the Premier League on NBC) opted not to show matches on Saturday afternoons. Also, FOX had originally planned to show the early March clash between the top sides in German football, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich on FOX Soccer Plus but fan backlash forced the game to be moved to FX, a smart move but one that was accompanied with little promotion.
Here are the takeaways from FOX Sports’ coverage of the Bundesliga:
FOX Sports demonstrated it would actually upgrade its soccer studio talent with someone that knows German soccer by bringing Joy onto the team last summer. The former FC St Pauli player, who was capped over 30 times at the youth level for the United States, provided a needed depth of knowledge and professionalism to the FOX studio team. As a presenter, Joy was solid and, where needed, he mixed in analysis as well.
The always-controversial Wynalda might not be the favorite of many MLS and US Soccer fans, but when analyzing the game he doesn’t pull any punches. Wynalda may not always be as well-prepared as NBC’s studio hosts are about the Premier League, but he always brings cutting-edge opinions.
FOX over-the-air games
The ratings weren’t great but they were not terrible either for the Saturday afternoon FOX over-the-air broadcasts. The use of John Strong on many of the games as a play-by-play voice was also a positive as was FOX’s more serious studio efforts around these matches.
Showing of Bundesliga produced magazine shows
While it was great FOX showed these programs, they were normally bumped to FS2 at an odd hour in the middle of the week. The content of these programs, if shown in conjunction with games or at a regular time slot, could help build more viewership and interest in the Bundesliga product. But FOX failed to replicate the NBC playbook of using ancillary programming that built identification with players and teams to help drive interest in the Premier League. Already at a disadvantage versus the Premier League in the United States, the Bundesliga really needed FOX Sports to make this commitment. Perhaps they will next season.
This was a neat feature the final two matchdays of the season, but ultimately meant one or more critical game wasn’t aired because FOX Sports, unlike NBC, doesn’t have overflow TV distribution platforms for those who want to see games in their entirety. Plus, while MultiMatch 90 can be a great way to follow games, the TV ratings for MultiMatch 90 have been extremely poor.
Generally done at a low-level and often patronizing to hard-core fans, most of the FOX Sports features in pregame and halftime segments were quite frankly throwaways.
FOX Sports’ graphics were often mistimed or even just filler. In some cases, they even were giving information overload on simple topics.
FOX Sports 2
Some of the biggest games of the season were bumped to FS2 because of conflicts with other sports or the FA Cup. The distribution for FOX Sports 2 (50 million homes) is less than what Fox Soccer Channel provided (72 million homes) at its dissolution in 2013. In other words, for many of the biggest matches of the season, FOX provided subpar FSC distribution for the league.
FOX Soccer Plus
For most cable or satellite subscribers, you get NBC’s Premier League Extra Time overflow channels for free. If you are on your computer, Apple TV or Roku and you’re an authenticated subscriber, you can watch every Premier League game via NBC Sports Live Extra.
In contrast, FOX has dumped all its excess capacity for the Bundesliga onto FOX Soccer Plus and FOX Soccer 2Go, premium products that remind us of a time when fans of this sport had pay an arm and a leg to watch matches or venture out at ungodly hours to local pubs.
FOX Soccer Plus is a relic of the past, and FOX’s inability to find a better distribution mechanism than this for the league is worrying if they ever want to grow the product.
Unless you’re being heavily spun by FOX Sports HQ, their failure to deliver large audiences for the Bundesliga ultimately means the efforts of the network failed badly. Several times this season, Bundesliga games would be beaten by a ten-to-one margin or even more when matched up head-to-head with a Premier League match on either NBCSN or USA Network.
FOX’s soccer coverage has no doubt improved and the addition of Joy has given the network a needed boost in terms of studio professionalism. However, the failure to build the Bundesliga brand, the lack of promotion the league was given on other FOX Sports platforms and properties plus the unwillingness to show ancillary programming at regular intervals all meant that FOX has once again fallen well below the levels of ESPN or NBC Sports when they cover competitions of this magnitude.
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