When FOX Soccer went off the air in early September last year, there was concern from soccer fans about how the network would handle the remaining soccer broadcast rights they still had. Even with FOX Sports 1 and 2 arriving, would their be the same access to Champions League and other matches that had always been there with a dedicated soccer channel?
As the one of the world's biggest club tournaments prepares for its triumphant return on Tuesday, the spotlight is now on FOX and how difficult it will be for fans to see the games they want to see.
FOX will be using both FOX Sports 1 and 2 to broadcast matches, along with FOX Soccer Plus and their online platform FOX Soccer2Go, both of which require a monthly paid subscription. What they won't be using, at least not for live broadcast of matches, is their regional FOX Sports channels, a platform they've regularly utilized in the past. It appears that rather than put matches on those channels, FOX Sports 2 will be carrying the load.
The problem with that plan is that FS2 is a channel that's tough for many to find, and even harder to find in HD. While FS1 is widely available in high definition on most major cable and satellite providers with, FS2 is only available on higher level tiers on most of the carriers that feature it, with some requiring a subscription to a sports pass to access the channel. Only three providers, Dish Network, DirecTV and AT&T U-Verse, offer it in high definition.
So how does that affect us this week?
Wednesday's coverage is an entirely different story, however. Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich, one of the biggest draws of the Round of 16, isn't on FOX Sports 1. Neither is AC Milan vs. Atlético Madrid. Instead, FS1 will feature NASCAR Truck Series and Sprint Cup practice, meaning that one of the most anticipated soccer matches of the week is only available of FOX Sports 2, FOX Deportes (a Spanish language channel) and FOX Soccer2Go. In past years, the game would probably have been on a regional FOX Sports channel, but not so this year.
That stinks because FOX has put a huge game on a channel with less reach than their main sports channel, limiting the potential audience and forcing some to pay for the right to legally see the game. While FOX has offered a free trial for FOX Soccer2Go, that's not a long term solution. It also doesn't help those at work during the day would like to DVR the match to watch when they get home.
While this appears to be a one week issue -- FS1 will carry games on both Tuesday and Wednesday next week -- it's another example of the network providing second-rate coverage to American soccer fans. NASCAR gets bigger ratings and networks are in the business of keeping sponsors happy by ensuring as many eyeballs on their advertising as possible, but it's still disappointing for soccer fans, especially considering FOX's less than stellar production and studio coverage of the sport.
Their recent coverage of the FA Cup has been horrendous, with Sunday's Arsenal vs. Liverpool match being pushed to FS2 in favor of motorcycle racing replays and a NASCAR Live studio show. One of their lead studio analysts didn't even know that MLS began play in March, as he indicated in a video featured on FOX Sports' website.
With MLS set to spend eight years with FOX again as a broadcast partner, questions have to be asked about how the network will treat the league. Considering how bad things got towards the end of the previous deal with the company, it's easy to understand why MLS fans are mildly concerned.
For now, though, it's just fans of the Champions League that are being left out in the cold.
UPDATE: Apologies, FS2 is available in high definition on DirecTV. The statement in the story has been corrected.