After months of talk, the highly anticipated ESPN FC finally launched on ESPN2 on Monday August 12 to mixed ratings and mixed results.
Interested to see what the show was about, I tuned in to the half-hour program for its first two days of air. All in all, it wasn’t half bad. For the casual soccer fan like myself, there were bloopers set to the tune of ESPN’s Not Top 10 music, there were interviews with players/coaches, highlights of top match moments and discussions about both US and international soccer. And for the more advanced soccer fan, there was a fair amount of hard-hitting analysis covering recent EPL player transfers and other discussion regarding the various world soccer leagues.
As someone who has watched ESPN’s other sport programs such as Baseball Tonight and NFL Live, ESPN FC appeared to be presented in the same format, offering something for everybody that has even a remote interest in soccer.
One could say that ESPN’s decision to finally embrace a show dedicated solely to what is going on in the world of soccer is a smart move, but at the same time, it might be too little too late for the network that was groundbreaking in its coverage of sports.
ESPN, the network that has the television rights to the US National Team, missed the opportunity to be the first network to cover soccer with a wide lens. That honor belongs to FOX, which in 2005 changed its sports network to Fox Soccer. It was the first of its kind and a huge leap for FOX to take considering soccer’s popularity in the US was just then beginning to grow.
But Fox Soccer has come on hard times since losing the broadcast rights of the EPL to NBC and is now going to be re-branded as part of Fox Sports 1. There will however be a daily soccer show called Fox Soccer Daily and it looks to be in direct competition with what ESPN and NBC are providing.
Just like NBC Sports Network, Fox Sports 1 is being launched specifically to take away some of the monopoly ESPN has on the sporting universe. As mentioned, NBC has secured the rights to the entire EPL season and that will play side-by-side with its coverage of the MLS. Fox Sports 1, which is going to expand on Fox’s coverage of Saturday baseball games and Sunday football games, is going to be largely driven by its soccer coverage of the UEFA Champions League, the FA Cup, CONCACAF Champions League and Gold Cup, the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) and the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Both NBC and FOX are going dominate the soccer coverage and for possibly the first time since its own inception, ESPN is going to be lagging behind. Their soccer coverage, right now, is limited to weekly MLS games and the right to air the US National games. And that is all fine and good in America, but lacking the access to international soccer could hurt ESPN in the long run.
And even if ESPN continues to be the world’s most watched sports network, it has likely missed its chance to really cover soccer the way fans are looking for. ESPN FC therefore, will likely become just another casualty to the network’s continually rotating programming schedule.