Fan Culture / Soccer on TV

What’s with this soccer talk explosion on television?

The middle of August has been a long anticipated landmark in American soccer television history. This spring saw the announcement of a bevy of new programming, and the success or failure of these new ventures could have a profound effect on the development of the sport’s viewership in the US.

The beacon of soccer coverage in America, FOX Soccer, is vanishing at the end of this week. When they lost their rights to EPL coverage, FOX decided to reconfigure their entire platform.

NBC

NBC’s significant investment in the EPL appears to have rejuvenated interest in providing coverage outside of live matches. With MLS already in cahoots with NBC, the possibility for cross-promotion existed. And at least for the first weekend, there appears to be a decent amount of overlap between MLS and EPL programming.

One of NBC’s introductions will be a full blown, two-hour adaptation of England’s popular Match Of The Day show. This weekend’s show will begin at 11 PM ET on NBC Sports Network, following the Red Bulls/Union contest and MLS360. There will also be a condensed highlights package, called Premier League Goal Zone, after Sunday’s EPL matches.

Fans of MLS may worry that this sounds EPL-centric, and those concerns are valid. We remember the way MLS was presented on FOX Soccer, and NBC could very well side with the money product. MLS must pay attention to the coming months and determine if NBC will continue to provide a consistent platform for content delivery.

ESPN and FOX

The good news is that ESPN and FOX have not given up hope for the beautiful game, even after losing the EPL. Both networks hold international properties (ESPN has next year’s FIFA World Cup, while FOX will carry the quadrennial event from 2018 forward), and they have a vested interest in keeping the sport in their purview.

On Sunday, after airing the 3-3 draw between F.C. Dallas and L.A., ESPN introduced “ESPN FC.” This is an adaptation of their international show ESPN Press Pass, which was previously available on YouTube in the States. ESPN is promising a grand arsenal of big name pundits to provide their opinions on this half-hour daily show (5:30 PM, ESPN2).

Tuesday’s show featured host Dan Thomas with Taylor Twellman and Alejandro Moreno to start. They aired an interview with Jurgen Klinsmann, and gave their opinions on his answers regarding Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, and the Mexican national team. Later segments had Thomas and Twellman talking about the Premier League with Tommy Smyth and Craig Burley. It has been relatively balanced show between domestic and European soccer news. You have to suspect that they will give plenty of time to MLS talk with talents like Twellman, Moreno, and Alexi Lalas.

As far as FOX goes, we’ve known about FOX Sports 1’s launch for months now. It will be yet another attempt to chip into ESPN’s dominance in the American sports psyche. FS1 may be the best opportunity for that to happen, given other commodities like the NFL, MLB, and NASCAR. They will also air the UEFA Champions League this fall. That, coupled with their future FIFA rights, means they won’t abandon soccer.

While FOX Soccer was chock full of live events for several years, it failed in presenting quality soccer talk. Busts like FOX Football Fone-In were frustrating but predictable for a channel accessible by a small percentage of the populace.

FS1 will attempt to succeed with FOX Soccer Daily where they failed before. The host of the show will be Canadian presenter Julie Stewart-Binks, and it should feature voices from the old FOX Soccer roster like Warren Barton, Eric Wynalda, and Grant Wahl, among others. How much this show changes from the Canadian-produced FOX Soccer News show that has been provided for many years will be interesting to see.

Ratings concerns

The biggest concern is ratings. Going from zero widely available soccer talk shows to two could effectively split the available market. That has the potential to make both shows appear poorly supported, thus reinforcing the stereotype that soccer won’t fly in America. While other sports have similar shows (and probably similar poor ratings), soccer still seeks validation in the marketplace, especially with MLS’s expiring television deals.

August 2013 is certainly a month of change in soccer media. FOX and ESPN are banking on new fans being cultivated by NBC’s Premier League coverage. If that all goes according to plan, the din of world football should continue to build, and could make next year’s World Cup the most discussed event in the sport’s history in America. Hopefully MLS can take advantage of this new investment in the sport, and reap fans who want to experience club soccer in their hometown.

13 Comments

  1. One thing I never get during this conversations – it makes it sound like there IS a large amount of ratings to get out there.
    Doesn’t this over look the fact that, by and large, Americans don’t like soccer? They don’t like it, they don’t care about it and they even hold some silly, bitter, preconceptions about it too.
    So, based on that, I don’t think whether or not NBC or Fox or anyone else starting to show quality soccer programming is going to matter in the way so many people think it will. Soccer in this country has so many more hurdles besides TV programming and spending money on DPs.

    • I believe that your comment is both true and untrue at the same time. I believe the difference is generational. The contempt you speak of is proabably true for the 30 and over generation (to a degree). But the younger generation holds the sport in a completely different regard. There are plenty of ratings to get, especially in the coveted age ranges that advertisers target. All of those shows on ESPN are only infomercials for the sports they carry. You can go on deadspin and see metrics for how often specific sports (and their respective stars) are mentioned during sportscenter, around the horn, eetc. So, young, impressionable kids watching TV with an interest in the sport will watch ESPN FC and then watch the games and more importantly, the stars, that they are talking about.

      Performance on the field, star power, and hype drive sports ratings, shows like ESPNFC can help foster that. It is up to MLS to provide the stars (Dempsey, Henry, Dovovan, etc.). The biggest thing hurting MLS ratings right now is the fact that there is no set schedule (NFL, every Sunday 1 and 4PM, you can set your clock to it).

    • The Chopper says:

      Soccer may never reach national past time status here in the states, but there is more than enough potential audience to support some of these platforms.

      There are channels and shows dedicated to Golf, Tennis, MotorSports, college Sports, high school sports and dozens of other undertakings.
      These

      The big cable outlets are no longer looking for mass audience for each program. They have multiple channels. They are looking for ways to expand the brands total audience through diversifying the audience and thus expanding the potential advertiser base as well.

      In other words, ESPN and Fox Sports have multiple ways to sell to advertises who want to be associated with the NFL, but they want delivery mechanisms for soccer advertisers. Golf advertisers etc. Its the new way of the world.

      I am not sure MLS is ever going to attract big national numbers for televised games. Right now there does not seem to be that many fans who are interested in watching matches that don’t involve their home side. Except for a few big games MLB and the NHL suffer the same fate during the regular season.

      I really think MLS should work much harder to improve the quality and quantity of local broadcasts of games to help attract more fans. We are blessed here in Philly to have a decent quality local production for the Union, but much of what I see around the rest of the league is simply awful.

    • I think it is more of a lazy journalistic talking point.

      Take Hockey for example. The knock on hockey is that no one likes it and no one watches it when in fact the NHL had steady growth leading up to the strike. In fact the strike was caused by steady growth. But when every most sports journalists talked about it (especially on networks that don’t carry hockey it would tend to be in dismissive terms.) I think the same goes for soccer certain lazy cliches get carried on by the media and then get parroted by the people who watch them.

      I think to a certain extent another problem is the myth of the big 4 sports. There is no such thing. There are the Big 2 sports Football in Winter and Baseball in summer. Everything else is a niche sport of varying size. I think the MLS has realized that now. finally. And they are trying to grow accordingly.

      • The Chopper says:

        Lazy journalism is a another topic altogether. The success of MLS is probably one of the most under reported stories of the past five years.

        The league has evolved into a money making enterprise with attendance numbers that equal those of some NBA and NHL teams (albeit it with a smaller schedule). All that more impressive when you remember that the NBA and NHL are by far the premiere basketball and hockey leagues in the world.

        MLS getting to where it is in the states with a second tier league on the world stage is truly a big story. Not that you see or hear anyone out of the soccer world reporting on it.

    • Americans don’t “by and large” watch anything anymore, other than the Super Bowl.

      In this day and age, it doesn’t matter what 90% of the people think, if you capture the other 10% you’re gold.

      • The Chopper says:

        They do still watch, but with so many channels and offerings, very few events garner a truly national audience. The NFL still has that juice, the Sunday night national game on NBC is often the top rated national program of the week. The ESPN Monday night game is usually the number one rated cable program of the week.

        The NFL is the only league that gets Americans to watch games in large numbers during the regular season for games not involving their home teams.

        That’s why MLS should not worry about the National broadcast package as much and should concentrate more on picking up the quality and coverage of home market broadcasts.

  2. I don’t care too much about all this soccer talk on TV. Have enough of it on SiriusXM (on drive to/from work). On TV I just want to make sure I see action and hope that the new ‘Match of the Day’ show is as good (or better) than the 1hr EPL Review Show that used to be on FSC Sunday’s at 9pm. Also hope that the online NBC channel is easy to get. Maybe will then invest in a Chromecast to project it back onto the TV screen….

  3. WilkersonMcLaser says:

    The obsession with the Barclays sickens me. I’m happy to see more soccer coverage, but the way a foreign competition seems to be bringing out the Eurosnob in every PBR slurping asshat makes me crazy. It’s called soccer you jackasses.

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