Welcome to the big time

[MY VIEW] Fox made a preemptive strike to garner the English-language World Cup rights from FIFA away from ESPN in a deal more than four times greater than ESPN's current deal with FIFA and more than 10 times the deal SUM, MLS's marketing arm, struck to ensure that the English-language rights went to ESPN in 2002 and 2006. Fox's move drew immediate consternation from many fans concerned about what it would mean to MLS and how soccer will generally be treated on American television.

Our response: Welcome to the big time.

To say the least, U.S. English-language World Cup rights have skyrocketed from $11 million in 1994 to $22 million in 1998, SUM's $40 million time-buy in 2002 and 2006, $100 million in 2010 and 2014 and ... $450 million to $500 million for 2018 and 2022.

What will happen to MLS's TV deals? Yes, the Fox deal complicates matters for MLS, but the league will be in its 20th year when its own new television deal begins in 2015. If it isn't able to negotiate between now and then a strong deal on its own -- without the help it got when the 2002-06 and 2010-14 World Cup deals were struck -- it may never be able to cut a strong TV deal. It was always going to be the case that one of the three bidders was going to have secured the 2018-22 World Cup rights. It just so happens that the two losers are the two networks -- ESPN and NBC -- that have will be covering MLS over the next three years. Any blow that ESPN's defeat is to MLS is softened by NBC's move into soccer with its coverage of MLS in 2012-14. At least, two networks will be bidding for the post-2014 MLS rights.

How will Fox present the World Cup? This is probably the big question mark. Fox was panned for its coverage of the 2011 UEFA Champions League. Former NFL star and current Fox NFL analyst Michael Strahan's segment before the Wembley final ranks among the dumbest soccer segments on network television in a generation. Fox Soccer's poor game coverage of MLS has always been a bone of contention with the league. Fox will have a lot of work to match ESPN for its pre-game, halftime and post-game coverage. As for the in-game coverage, Fox will get the same international feed ESPN got. The big question will be, what announcers will Fox use? Will it capture British TV rights and use its British announcers on its U.S. broadcasts like it does for the Champions League?

How will Fox promote the World Cup? ESPN aggressively promoted the World Cup -- and all things soccer -- and had the advantage of having many platforms on which to promote the event. It also had a whole stable of creative geniuses cooking up soccer ideas. Think of all the soccer vignettes it showed. Documentaries like "The Two Escobars." Soccer coverage in ESPN The Magazine. ESPN treated soccer as a first-class sport. Fox also has many platforms, but it isn't set up the same. It has no sports news institution like ESPN's SportsCenter. Much of its television operation is non-sports with networks like FX, Fox News Network and Fox Business Network. It will be in Fox's interest, though, to promote the heck out of the 2018 World Cup to set the ratings bar for advertisers to the 2022 World Cup. Fox might not promote the World Cup like ESPN has done, but it hasn't hurt it when it comes to airing events like the Super Bowl and World Series. And there's no reason to believe ESPN will ignore the World Cup simple because its a non-rights holder. After all, it doesn't own the rights to the Super Bowl, World Series or Final Four, but it still has a major presence at these events.

How will Fox treat other FIFA events? With the rights to the World Cup come rights to all other FIFA competitions over eight years (2015-22). Right away, we will see how Fox treats its investment. The 2015 Women's World Cup will be in Canada. Frankly, Fox will be hard pressed to match ESPN's commitment to the women's championship.  The USA's run in Germany this summer created a ratings coup for ESPN, which was justly rewarded for its exceptional coverage of the tournament with studio shows from Germany each day and live coverage on ESPN and ESPN2. As for other FIFA events like the Under-20 and Under-17 World Cups (men and women), Fox will be able to use these events to fill the dead summer months between European league seasons when Fox Soccer and Fox Soccer Plus show reruns of games from year's past. And it gains plenty of programming to air on foxsoccer.tv like ESPN did with ESPN3.com.



9 comments about "Welcome to the big time".
  1. Heather Scott-molleda, October 26, 2011 at 9:12 a.m.

    As long as we don't have to listen to Max Bretos (who thankfully moved from Fox to ESPN), or the pompous brothers: Eric Wynalda and Alexi Lalas, I will be thrilled.

    But Paul, have you ever actually watched Fox Soccer Channel? You know, the channel with a NIGHTLY SOCCER NEWS PROGRAM? How often does SportsCenter actually cover soccer. Fox's show is admittedly low budget but still does a thorough job. And perhaps they will revive the formerly great weekly show: Fox Football Fone In with Steven Cohen and Nick Gerber. What happened to the show? They replaced Cohen with Wynalda. Cue plummeting viewership.

    ESPN did a good job with the Women's World Cup, especially bringing in international players to do commentary. Hopefully Fox will continue to have knowledgeable commentators rather than just anyone with an English accent like NBC.

  2. Jared Keenan, October 26, 2011 at 9:40 a.m.

    Obviously, the World Cups that Fox has are a long way off so they have time to work things out. My concern is that they work on making Fox Soccer a bigger part of cable lineups in that time. It will be a disaster for the sport if people have to subscribe to FSC for the World Cups.

    Heather, unfortunately Fox Soccer treats the report poorly. Bobby McMahon is no longer involved in their coverage of the Champions League as he was before. You can thank Cohen/Liverpool fans for his disappearance from the channel. He made some stupid remarks about Hillsborough that led to a massive movement by Liverpool fans to have him replaced. That show isn't coming back with Cohen involved due to that.

  3. Tibor Polgar, October 26, 2011 at 12:33 p.m.

    Not really covered are the differences on online offerings between ESPN3 and foxsoccer.tv.

    * ESPN3 has all soccer games Live, while fox typically puts the "prime" games as On-Demand meaning they are streamed the NEXT DAY.

    * ESPN3 is free bonus if your has subscribed to the service while Fox is $20/mon.

    * ESPN3 streaming is Flash based can be captured/archived using 3rd party software while Fox can't. I have all of the 2010 and 2011 WC games on a hard drive for personal enjoyment.

    In all this looks really bad, online wise.

  4. Caroline Lambert, October 26, 2011 at 12:42 p.m.

    I'm concerned about the cost. Currently Fox and my satellite provider (Directv) are in a dispute about the cost of some of the Fox channels, in particular FSC. I'm sure Fox will use the World Cup to extract as much $$ as possible from the cable and satellite providers, which they will then have to pass along to subscribers. I'm sure we'll end up paying quite a bit more.

  5. John DiFiore, October 26, 2011 at 1:52 p.m.

    Great article!! A lot of very valid points.
    But sadly, ESPN has always treated soccer like the rest of americans...

    Fox will have to start promoting its regional sports channels and perhaps create their own "SportsCenter" to promote watching.

    Espn's WWC coverage was awesome from the bus all over Germany. But Lalas has become obnoxious. Wynalda's better.

    FOX, PLEASE NO ENGLISH COMMENTATORS!!! Ian Darke is anti-american.

  6. Jim Murphy, October 26, 2011 at 1:55 p.m.

    What people are most concerned about is FOX's relentless gimmickry, and their tendency to try to dumb down everything they cover. Remember the glowing puck in hockey, the "robots" during NFL coverage, goofy and relentless graphics during baseball coverage. And of course the Strahan nonsense from the CL final.

    In the end, FOX will have to make a decision. Do they treat the WC as a revered, cherished jewel on the sports calendar, and align themselves with Sky Sports or whatever the hell British sports channel they own, and cover it properly, or do they treat it as a glossy Americanized production with relentless American Idol plugs, shots of the cast of "Glee" sitting in the stands, and indecipherable logos and graphics all over the place. They can't have it both ways. And I'm betting they go with the latter instead of the former.

  7. Kenneth Barr, October 26, 2011 at 2:46 p.m.

    While I generally prefer ESPN's soccer coverage to Fox's, they did make a great improvement to their MLS coverage by hiring JP Dellacamera, who has solid soccer play by play credentials. While I despise Fox News and Business, they are a credible sports broadcasting network although they, like ESPN and others, tend to promote other enterprises way too much. The other concern is the ongoing problems at News Corp, Fox's corporate parent. Should the hacking allegations against News Corp pan out, how will that affect FSC's ability to pay for what it hsa bought? MLS may have accepted more money for 2018 and 2022, but ESPN would have been the safer choice long term.

  8. Raveen Rama, October 26, 2011 at 3:16 p.m.

    What's wrong with Alexi Lalas? I always like his analysis, and his comments are frank and right on the mark!

  9. Leonardo Perez, October 26, 2011 at 5:42 p.m.

    I've seen all the "warnings" saying that News Corp (Robert Murdock and FOX)want more money, so Directv is having to cancel Fox Sports, the regional networks, Natl Geographic, etc--so, all I can say OK. I'll just stop watching Fox English Soccer. I'll miss Natl Geo though. I would say I'll watch on Telemundo (CBS) but I don't like their commentators--they bashed MLS endlessly.So, maybe I'll watch with the sound turned off and hear the radio commentators. Damn, 8 years of FOX.

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