Thursday, August 11, 2011


by Dick Mac

One of the few things that News Corp. has done consistently well is the delivery of soccer to its United States audience.

Through its Fox Soccer Channel, it has doggedly presented club football from all over the world as well as the more popular international matches played between nations, generally as a lead-up the the quadrennial World Cup.

Without fail, FSC has attempted to present matches live and in their entirety, along with high-quality commentary and analysis. Unlike its sibling Fox Sports, which has bastardized American professional sports with ridiculous gimmicks, the least intelligent talking heads available in the market, and intrusive advertising, FSC has maintained a quiet dignity that treats is product (soccer) with respect and reverence.

Major League Soccer, the franchise-based United States soccer league, has relied upon and enjoyed a strong relationship with FSC. More often than not, the broadcast of MLS matches on FSC have been far superior to broadcasts by local outlets and dramatically better than any broadcast by the Mickey Mouse operation over at Disney-owned Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.

Being an American consumer of soccer is challenging. Upon returning from life in England almost ten years ago, I struggled to find access to the matches I wanted to watch. Today, there are many options.

Disney has increased the number of matches they broadcast, even though they regularly interrupt, delay, or pre-empt them to broadcast children's events for which only they as the broadcaster are making any real money. News Corp. doubled its soccer capacity with introduction of Fox Soccer Plus (FSP), which I am fortunate to have access to. With local provider MSG Network contracting to broadcast my local team's matches, and Spanish-language network Univision contracting for other MLS matches, I have access to quite a bit of soccer. The matches are still treated as bastard children by half the broadcasters under contract, and it's just as likely my match will be pre-empted as not, but at least the access is there and progress is progress!

FSC is losing, or giving-up, its contract with MLS, and the domestic league has signed on with NBC starting with the 2012 season.

This is likely good news for MLS, which as a franchise-driven enterprise is not terribly interested in the quality of the product delivery but is required to focus on the profit-taking; so, if the broadcaster is paying the fee, then they can present the sport in any haphazard way they choose.

Looking at NBC's long history of sports production, one might think a quality product is forthcoming, but looking at NBC's recent history, and considering they are now owned by the less-than-prestigious Comcast Corporation, it is likely the integrity of the broadcasts, when compared to FSC, will deteriorate to Disney levels.

The forthcoming and current MLS television deals with Comcast, Disney and Univsion all expire at the end of 2014.

If Comcast (as NBC) can deliver quality broadcasts, and Disney drops out of the soccer business altogether because they are so very bad at it, it is likely that soccer in America might enjoy some more success. If, however, Comcast takes the Disney route (which is more likely than not), American soccer fans will experience a devolution of soccer in the United States, and will have to settle-in for more years of sub-standard treatment at the hands of anti-soccer broadcasters like Disney.

I hope that Comcast/NBC does a good job, and I hope MLS makes a lot of money.

M.L.S. and NBC Sports Announce New TV Deal

1 comment:

Adam said...

One would like to hope that the MLS has some input as to how their games are broadcast. An example is the Master golf tournament. The Masters is broadcast on CBS without commercial interruption - part of the contract. Of course the MLS has no where near the same strength in bargaining with NBC that the Masters does with CBS, but they should be able to put on the table what they believe to be the best way of showing their product.