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The best soccer TV channels in the United States, ranked

Best soccer TV channels

People own different opinions as to what are the best channel soccer TV channels or providers.

On a recent episode of the World Soccer Talk Podcast, we shared our rankings of which sports TV networks cover soccer the best in the United States. Note these rankings are applicable to linear television only and do not consider streaming.

In countdown style, we rank the top eight linear TV options for soccer viewing below from least best to number one.

The Best Soccer TV Channels

8: GolTV

One of the pioneers of soccer coverage in the United States, GolTV has in the last decade lost rights, lost access to cable and satellite and has moved most of its operations for the United States from Miami to Lima.

What GolTV does well:

• Shows the sport 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week

Areas where GolTV need to improve:

• Commentary that suits the U.S. market
• A portfolio of rights that interests most U.S. fans
• A strong distribution network on cable and satellite in the U.S.

 

7: FOX Sports

FOX’s loss of rights through the years has also been matched by its loss of broadcast talent. FOX has long had a problem in not promoting its properties well and having seemingly poor production quality compared to other soccer broadcasters.

What FOX Sports does well:

• Gives a fair amount of pre and post match coverage of MLS & USWNT/USMNT
• An excellent top commentary team of John Strong & Stu Holden
• When Alexi Lalas isn’t doing MLS or USMNT, he’s objective and usually very well-researched

Areas where FOX Sports need to improve:

• Consistency from one match to another in terms of studio and production levels
• A commitment to soccer which involves promoting soccer properties consistently during other sporting events
• Objectivity toward any story involving MLS or the U.S. National teams. The network cheer-leads for both league and federation
• Any sort of cutting-edge studio analysis that is comparable with CBS or ESPN
• The recent loss of FA Cup and Bundesliga rights has taken FOX off weekend-morning TV screens
• FOX’s level of production and commitment to the sport has noticeably dropped off since 2017

 

6: Telemundo

NBCUniversal’s Spanish-language flagship channel, Telemundo, has specialized in summer tournaments and also airs Premier League and Chivas home matches.

What Telemundo does well:

• Top commentators led by the legendary Andrés Cantor
• Integration of soccer into general sports and news programs during summer tournaments
• Coverage of the biggest Premier League matches

Areas where Telemundo need to improve:

• A lack of rights outside summer tournaments
• Consistency in showing the Premier League
• A Liga MX presence outside Chivas
• South American club football that might appeal to the audience of the network and grow its overall soccer profile

 

 

5: beIN SPORTS

Best soccer TV channels

beIN SPORTS crashed onto the U.S. sports and soccer broadcast scene in 2012 and immediately made a positive impression. The levels of production and types of bumper programming BeIN offered from its inception in the U.S. exceeded what soccer broadcasters outside ESPN had traditionally provided in this country.

In addition to beIN’s recent struggles maintaining its standing with cable and satellite providers, the network has witnessed a major on-air talent drain of late.

What beIN SPORTS does well:

• Lots of studio shows about soccer
• Some excellent talent remains at the network
• A knowledge of LaLiga that is especially useful for big matches
• Access to several leagues that would not otherwise be on U.S. TV

Areas where beIN SPORTS need to improve:

• Wide distribution on U.S. cable & satellite. The setbacks of 2017 & 2018 have permanently undermined the network ability to penetrate most homes of non-cord-cutters in the U.S.
• The loss of significant on-air talent the last few years. Some of the best in the business have left BeIN since 2018. While BeIN has replaced most of them with competent studio and match commentators, the drop-off is noticeable
• Loss of Serie A rights has made the network’s soccer coverage and talking heads more LaLiga-centric than ever

 

4: NBC Sports

After years of ignoring the sport outside Olympic tournaments, NBC crashed the soccer television party with outstanding MLS and Premier League coverage in the early portion of the 2010’s. Providing superior studio coverage, bumper programming, cutting-edge analysis, timely news and outstanding match broadcasts from the grounds, NBC Sports set a new standard for both MLS and Premier League coverage in the U.S..

But NBC has backslid the last few years. Recently, network executives announced its cable channel NBCSN — its primary soccer vehicle — will be shuttered by the end of 2021.

What NBC Sports does well:

• Broadcasts a higher percentage of matches that they have rights to air both on linear cable and over-the-air network TV than any other U.S. broadcaster
• Has extensive studio wrap-around coverage of matches
• Recent addition of Danny Higginbotham to the studio team has elevated the discussion
• Produces bumper programming such as the Promoted series

Areas where NBC Sports need to improve:

• Extensive soccer coverage beyond a single league
• NBC has lost on-air talent over the last few years leading to less informative and useful pre and post match shows
• Premier League coverage has become less heavy and serious the last few years on the network. Storylines have become either lighter or more sensational in the past few seasons
• NBC Sports views the Premier League too often in a vacuum. A very recent example is the limited discussion about Liverpool playing Manchester United in the FA Cup as a possible reason for Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp rotating his squad against Burnley recenly. It’s as if the FA Cup is a total afterthought. In the recent past, this has also been the case with NBC pundits in discussion of continental competitions for English clubs

 

3: TUDN

Formerly Univision Deportes, TUDN is a Spanish-language collaboration between Televisa and Univision that has elevated soccer coverage in the United States. Many events are also available in English.

Recently, a move away from Miami-based commentators and toward more Mexico City-based commentators has hurt the network in our opinion, but TUDN remains a strong overall broadcaster.

What TUDN does well:

• Coverage of UEFA club competitions has been exceptional and innovative. TUDN has been so successful with this, they have lured some English-language dominant viewers
• Wrap-around shows for Liga MX broadcasts
• General discussion of soccer on other sports shows

Areas where TUDN need to improve:

• Commentary levels have dropped in the last ten months as more commentators have been used from Mexico
• Loss of Spanish-language Bundesliga rights took away a magnet for U.S. viewers and entry point for general soccer fans to watch the network all day with effective lead-ins for MLS & Liga MX broadcasts
• TUDN is often hidden deep on cable tiers although many matches broadcast on over-the-air UniMas affiliates and occasionally on Univision’s main channel

 

2: CBS Sports

Best Soccer TV Channels

The broadcaster, which has eschewed soccer coverage for most of the last four decades, began to broadcast both NWSL and UEFA club competitions in 2020. They were met with rave reviews.

CBS understood both products, opting to cover NWSL and UEFA Champions League totally differently, since both audiences are distinct and commentary preferences tend to differ.

What CBS Sports does well:

• CBS coverage of NWSL utilizes the best talent on offer to discuss the women’s game on-air
• Coverage of UEFA club competitions being based in London has allowed the broadcaster to attract top global talent
• CBS is the first U.S. broadcaster to cover the UEFA Champions League since ESPN (who lost the domestic rights in 2009) to use its own talent to call matches during every matchday
• CBS has copied many of TUDN’s features — most notably its whiparound show hosted by TUDN alumnus Nico Cantor

Areas where CBS need to improve:

• Consistent broadcast windows for live matches on linear television. To CBS’ credit, they show a number of UEFA Champions League matches on tape-delay that air live on the network’s OTT platform and app. However, these matches are generally never shown live on linear TV
• NWSL bumper shows and magazine programming

 

1: ESPN

ESPN’s portfolio of club soccer rights has rebounded from the lows of the mid 2010’s when the broadcaster only featured MLS and assorted cup competitions from across Europe. The addition of Serie A in 2018 and the Bundesliga in 2020 as well as both English Cup competitions has moved the broadcaster up several levels in our estimation.

What ESPN does well:

• ESPN has a remarkable amount of on-air talent to choose from
• ESPN studio programs are consistently entertaining and informative
• The network always has insiders that can break news or give informed speculation about potential news
• Production levels and camera work are the best in the business

Areas where ESPN need to improve:

• Like CBS, ESPN now lacks consistent broadcast windows for live matches on linear television
• The bumping of ESPNFC to ESPN+ has taken the network’s outstanding flagship soccer studio program off linear TV except during UEFA Nations League match days
• Not enough integration of soccer storylines and highlights into general sports programming

 

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24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Mercator

    February 3, 2021 at 11:55 am

    I agree Turfit, I use Fanatiz to get Bein, but to me that’s not really linear TV. For most TV subscribers in the country, Bein doesn’t seem to be available and you have to use a third party streaming option. I’m fine with this, but then I think the comparison needs to be against ESPN, CBS and other streaming platforms, not against what FS2 or NBCSN are showing on linear TV.

    KJay, good coverage looks like what NBCSN was doing for the first 5 years with the rights. PL Mornings from 7am- 3pm, all good games shown, good commentary in between matches, maybe a fan fest or two. Unfortunately NBC destroyed this with the whole peacock thing. PL mornings are dead, half the games have no commentary if they are on peacock and when the game ends you get a black screen and get to hunt around for wherever the next match is. Good games that used to be on linear TV (I.e. every big 6 matchup) are NOT ON TV anymore, they are on peacock. Obviously, this makes NBCSN’s linear TV offerings much worse than in the past when you could rely on it to watch the big games.

    This is a big part of the reason people are so upset. It’s not as if NBC has no idea how to put together a good product (as seems to be the case with Fox). No one here is biased, we have all been singing NBC praises for YEARS until they deliberately ruined the product to get a buck out of people.

  2. KJay

    February 3, 2021 at 8:01 am

    I’ve got a bias for NBCSN and Kartik has a bias against NBCSN. I’m not going to ramble on about what I feel this article lacks or ignores but instead I’ll ask this: perhaps for the next opinion piece can you list out what a appropriately done coverage looks like? Maybe I’m missing something here.

  3. jstrummer

    February 2, 2021 at 9:11 pm

    Old enough to recall the pre ‘Fox Sports World’ days of the 90’s when one would be lucky to see one match weekly, not to mention the earlier days of vacationing in Florida with the thrill and opportunity to buy an English paper that actually has football scores and tables. Comparing that to debating who’s the best in broadcasting the weekly couple of hundred matches available seems rather petty.

  4. Turfit

    February 2, 2021 at 8:40 pm

    @Mercator, “Bein is the best channel imo, but its hard to put it top spot when most of us cannot get the channel.”
    But most of us can get the channel, you can stream beIN and a lot more with Fanatiz for $8 a month or with sling for $10 a month (or $60 a year on the annual plan). If you want to watch La Liga, it’s there and available.

  5. Hans

    February 2, 2021 at 7:58 pm

    After using the ESPN megacast it seems like human rights violation to have to watch only one game at a time on linear TV. L:-)L

  6. Mercator

    February 2, 2021 at 6:53 pm

    The list is correct holistically (including streaming), but for just LINEAR TV, its really just Bein, NBC and Fox. No one else airs that much outside of a few select games. Bein is the best channel imo, but its hard to put it top spot when most of us cannot get the channel. So I would still give NBC the top spot, even though it has fallen off pretty badly recently. Fox is a default 3, they show enough US games and Liga MX to make the list.

    ESPN and CBS are fantastic for streaming, but not that much on actual TV. I think its interesting that my (and Katrik’s it seems) best broadcasters are the ones who stream well. I don’t give high marks to the ones showing a lot of linear games because their online options are APPALLING, and ultimately linear TV is severely limited anyway. The best streaming provider (ESPN) is miles ahead of the best linear TV provider (NBC) in my opinion, if only for the quality of quantity. After using the ESPN megacast it seems like human rights violation to have to watch only one game at a time on linear TV.

  7. Greg C

    February 2, 2021 at 12:45 pm

    NBC (rightly) take some stick for their coverage but that piece they just did for Black History Month with Barnes, Ince, Cole and Earle was fantastic. Bravo!

  8. Michael F

    February 2, 2021 at 11:30 am

    Like Edward said above. These articles are perhaps fun for a read but its really clickbait and just to get a reaction. For that, it serves its purpose.

  9. disco george

    February 2, 2021 at 11:03 am

    I think Fox would definitely disagree with the idea that they are giving all of the other networks a free pass, lol.

  10. Michael F

    February 2, 2021 at 10:36 am

    Second sentence of 2nd paragraph should read: ‘I haven’t seen this presumed drop off..”.
    I wish you could edit your comment posts here. Typos and missed words and getting a person’s name wrong can happen from time to time. 🙂

  11. Michael F

    February 2, 2021 at 10:33 am

    @disco george You bring up some fair comments to consider. However, if what you say is true about Kartik & Chris being particularly hard on NBC to challenge them when they set the high standard for soccer euro league coverage — while they give a free pass to all other networks — that In itself tells me the ranking they give for NBC is far too low and its assessment is biased.
    My take on NBC’s coverage despite the pandemic and required cost cutting, is I haven’t this presumed drop off in quality or stagnantatnon I hear repeated by Kartik and others that like to agree with him. I find it just conjecture opinion. The quality is still there, even under these challenging circumstances.

  12. disco george

    February 2, 2021 at 10:00 am

    Well, to be fair, Kartik’s explanations on the podcast have been more detailed, especially the part about NBC losing talent. Given what I’ve heard him say, I think he is referring to the UK-based correspondents (Steve Bower, etc.) that gave NBC’s coverage that extra little elevation. That could have been better articulated here, but I don’t think he’s speaking strictly about Kyle Martino and Tim Howard on that point.
    This is just speculation, but is it possible that Chris and Kartik are being particularly hard on NBC because a) NBC was so good for so many years and b) they are trying to challenge NBC to keep innovating and not get complacent? NBC’s coverage isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it has gotten a little stagnant lately (which is understandable to a certain extent — cost-cutting, pandemic, etc.). We don’t know what kinds of conversations are happening internally at NBC, but hopefully they are trying to not only maintain, but push beyond the standards they set themselves for coverage in the US.

  13. Edward

    February 2, 2021 at 9:55 am

    more clickbait
    just b’c a channel has a lot of the content doesn’t mean it treats it well…its the reason ESPN doesn’t have a monopoly on all sports just because it is an all sports station
    the carrot for leagues to distribute through other networks is the focus they give as opposed to ESPN’s loose coverage of everything
    btw, the likes of Bayern, RM and Barca rotate to focus on cup/continental comps all the time, its just harder to succeed in the EPL

  14. Frank

    February 2, 2021 at 9:30 am

    While I enjoy being able to watch every Bundesliga match on on ESPN+, the lack of studio analysis is a drag. I did not love how Fox relegated the German league to the basement but at least they still had the studio show to get viewers quickly up to speed on the fixtures of the day. ESPN+ is excellent though if you consider its a one stop shop for all the matches, if you like Bundesliga, Serie A, EFL, etc. I have really like the CBS coverage of CL so far, although I don’t love CBS App, but in the end don’t get NBC”s decisions and would think they’d want to continue trying to grow the market and their TV audience.

  15. Michael F

    February 2, 2021 at 9:20 am

    @disco george. Good point. I think I am to blame for that. Well, I believe I flubbed his name as well as he flubbed his opinion of this very biased and incomplete assessment of tv network coverage of soccer. 🙂

  16. disco george

    February 2, 2021 at 9:16 am

    who’s this ‘Kartif’ guy? If you’re going to come after someone for being ‘inaccurate’ in an opinion piece, getting his name right should be a no-brainer?

  17. Blue Suede Shoes

    February 2, 2021 at 9:00 am

    Thanks Kartif for a piece that should, and will be taken with a large pinch of salt. Especially by any soccer fan who can intelligently critique the providers. The source of the ranking data is highly questionable and your bias against NBCS shines through. No other provider comes close to matching NBCS coverage and you failed to mention the important fact that their soccer coverage will be transferred over to the USA network, no doubt with the same production team. Not wishing to put too fine a point on this, but the comments above get it dead right and your piece is dead wrong.

  18. Michael F

    February 2, 2021 at 8:32 am

    @benfica 1968. Really like your point about the ridiculous ‘lost on-air talent over the years’ argument that Kartif continues to spew. Kyle Martino opt to leave and they replaced them with two very credible ex-premier league players. And they still have the two Robbies (who are second to none). So I don’t know how Kartif can say that Higginbotham now has “elevated the discussion.” No… his presence is welcome as he adds well to the great quality of analysis already present.
    I think Kartif can’t possibly provide a truly objective slant to this, because he’s too busy viewing all the other soccer coverage out there. After all, how much can you possibly take in and really make a proper assessment of it?

  19. Michael F

    February 2, 2021 at 8:06 am

    @Graham. Agree with you on NBC coverage of the EPL. No one exclusively covers a single euro league better and more in depth for all their clubs.
    Just as an example, they spent many hours covering the winter transfer window (even tied in with Sky Sports throughout the day) and gave ample time for all 20 clubs. And no, I don’t work for NBC. I am just providing what I think is an objective opinion.
    The two Robbies and Rebecca Lowe are terrific. Not over-the-top, emotional and dramatic reaction type of analysis, like you sometimes get with Craig Burley or Steve Nicol at ESPN FC (who only cover top 4 clubs of every league). Just the other day, ESPC FC gave a very small minute of time for why Leicester City won’t challenge for the EPL title and can’t be taken too seriously and Nicol never even mentioned the important fact that James Vardy is out with injury currently and that certainly impacts that club right now.
    Kartif’s slant that NBC has backslid in recent years is Nonsense. Their provider Comcast only managed to anger many fans with the implementation of Peacock and splitting the EPL match coverage between linear NBCSN and streaming Peacock. So any time NBC is brought up about any topic here on this site, it’s a complaint fest that this site’s writers oddly seem to want to oblige.
    But that is NOT what this topic is about. It’s about who provides the best quality soccer coverage of the tv networks. No one covers a euro league better than NBC covers EPL.

  20. Graham

    February 2, 2021 at 6:13 am

    I disagree with these ratings. I think NBCSports does the best job in terms of what they cover, the EPL, and the team of commentators they have are second to none. I watch a lot of TUDN but they don’t always have my team on in the CL. I would rate CBS as dead last in sdoccer coverage. Games are delayed, hard to find and you need another paid service, unlike NBCSports, where many are free especially when you are a Comcast customer. I agree that the inability to record streamed games if frustrating. I noticed another channel on Comcast showing CL games that is pretty good. I do watch quite a lot of soccer on the Spanish channels even though I don’t speak a word of spanish. Outside of the EPL, I agree that ESPN does a great job of coverage for a reasonable monthly fee. Bundes league, the Friday English Championship game and the FA and Carabao cup games. Good value for money. But NBC so low down in the ratings? You have that wrong.

  21. benfica 1968

    February 1, 2021 at 10:46 pm

    It is clear from other articles that KK has a bias against NBC/NBCSN/Peacock, but your comments on where improvements are needed just do not stand up:
    “NBC has lost on-air talent over the last few years”; Kyle Martino left and was replaced by Tim Howard and Danny Higginbotham – both of whom played for many years in the Premier League so I would say it was an upgrade. Although Tim Howard brings no life to the studio. Rebecca holds it all together and is excellent.
    “discussion about Liverpool playing Manchester United in the FA Cup as a possible reason for Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp rotating his squad against Burnley recently. It’s as if the FA Cup is a total afterthought.” This argument seems totally bass ackward. If they are saying Klopp rotated his squad for the Burnley game because of the FA Cup game against United, that surely shows the commentators felt that Klopp was prioritizing the FA Cup – that would not indicate an afterthought of a competition!
    I mainly watch the Premier League and Champions league and think that NBC is superior to CBS, with the exception of Roberto Martinez who is excellent. Every game carried either on TV or streaming, and Peacock at $4.99/month is very reasonable, I do not see why people complain about the cost. I accept that cable is ridiculously expensive that is hardly the fault of any individual channel.

  22. josesa

    February 1, 2021 at 9:10 pm

    Simple fact that tells how popular soccer is in the United States: “The Prime Time” on your No.1 Channel is Sunday 6:30 am ET with second or third level Serie A teams. For or five years ago, every weekend we could start with early EPL game on NBCSN, switch to Bundesliga game on Fox sport and, in the afternoon, pick between Derby d’Italia or El Clasico on Bein Sports. Today, you need five different subscriptions to follow the best of European soccer.

  23. Carlos

    February 1, 2021 at 8:21 pm

    1. Telemundo and univision are en español!
    Do unless you are bilingual they are not even in the discusión,

    2. Nbcsn and peacock is a disaster. Gotta pay twice, cable and stream. And lately they don’t ! even know which channel will show what until the day before!

  24. Senor Buckwheat

    February 1, 2021 at 8:17 pm

    I watch less soccer today due to the fact that most of it is streamed. The ones on old school cable show up on my DVR when they will be on. Plus I can watch them whenever after they are recorded. If you go to a streaming channel, it starts right in the middle of a game so you know the score without the benefit of watching from the beginning. DVR let’s me pause, rewind, etc. Can’t do any of this with streaming. I used to put channel on NBC on weekends and soccer would play continuously. Streaming plays a game and stops. You then have to hunt for the next game. I could go on forever but hopefully someone in power gets the point and improves it.

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