Ranking the best soccer TV channels in the United States

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:

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

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

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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