Fox Sports erases summer of goodwill with Bundesliga coverage scheme

Fox Sports is a lighting rod for the soccer aficionado in the United States. On one hand it was the first group to give the niche sport a chance with real coverage of European leagues and MLS during it’s infancy too. On the other hand it also treated those properties like second class citizens as fans grew up and grew tired of being treated like idiots who knew nothing of the game with lackluster commentary and bad pandering.

Many celebrated Fox Sports’ dying coverage of the game as the first decade of the 2000’s came to an end and the turn of a new decade saw huge ratings go elsewhere when coverage was treated seriously.

However, with a summer ahead featuring the biggest tournaments available the sports network had a huge opportunity to build up some goodwill with jilted fans and even give new fans a chance to catch the sport.

There’s little doubt the presentation of the 2015 Women’s World Cup was a wild success, with a record number of people tuning in for any soccer match in the history of television as the United States hoisted the Women’s World Cup championship trophy.

Add in some good coverage of the Gold Cup (which on the field has been a dreadful disaster to watch) and of course the friendlies of the International Champions Cup, and there was plenty of soccer to consume at a high level (on the field and production wise).

Many went on to praise Fox Sports for what went down throughout the spring and summer as it ramped up coverage and took the sport with the seriousness fans expect today. Many also got their hopes up that come the fall, the newest property, the German Bundesliga, would get the same serious treatment.

That meant a featured game on FS1, highlights on Fox Sports Live at night and perhaps even a studio show or some replays of games at a bare minimum.

 

After all, why buy all these rights and spend money on these international tournaments and let all that momentum go to waste heading in to your first year covering one of the most marketable leagues in the world?

However, the network appears ready to erase all the goodwill it has built up if a report from World Soccer Talk is the final product. According to its reporting, fans are going to be really disappointed to know that at best one will see games on Fox Sports 2 a few times a  week and Fox Sports 1 on a rare occasion (if at all).

The remainder of games? Get ready to fork out some serious dough, as the Bundesliga will be relegated to that ever popular Fox Soccer Plus and the oh-so fun Fox Soccer 2 Go.

It all adds up to bad news for Bundesliga fans hoping to finally have the league taken seriously by an American television company. Having the majority of games being shown on FS2 was bad enough, as the network is seen in about half of the 84 million homes FS1 is in.

Things only get worse when you consider Fox Soccer Plus is a pay channel (charging upwards of $14.99 to $20 depending on the provider) and that Fox Soccer 2 Go is a streaming service that costs $19.99 a month and is offered at the oh-so easy price point of $99.99 for an annual subscription.

It means fans of the league that really want to get in to it are going to have to fork over about $23 a month (assuming you pro-rate the $99.99 price over 12 months). That’s more money being asked to be forked over to watch games from a streaming service than the likes of Major League Baseball or the NHL are asking for a single league-wide subscription.

MLB.tv’s premium package goes for $24.99 a month but carries just a $79.99 price tag for the full season. the NHL gives you access to all the games for $19.99 a month.

The Fox Soccer 2 Go option appears to be the only way for Bundesliga fans to guarantee access to every game, meaning fans are basically forced to pay for the league if they want to get it. While that’s not the worst option in a world that increasingly is cord-cutting, it’s a steep price to ask for access to just one league.

Yes, Fox Sports will sell that you also get access to live and on-demand games from the Champions League, Europa League, UEFA World Cup qualifiers, other leagues in Europe, a host of ruby events and even some Aussie Rules footy thrown in there. That’s all well and good, but outside of the UCL property, which many are tuning in to in droves on those regular channels Fox Sports provides, there isn’t a lot of value to paying for the service.

Why the need to push the league as a whole in with a clump of others. The Bundesliga wasn’t bought to be a throwaway inclusionary league in a package, it should be treated like the entertaining and world class league it is.

Not like these networks are losing out to cord-cutting or illegal streams or anything. Rather than throwing fans a bone for the lackluster coverage on the regular (and pay) cable channels and offering games on the free-of-charge Fox Sports Go app (online and via app for phones and tablet), the company has struck out with soccer fans again.

According to the World Soccer Talk article, here is how coverage is appearing to shape up early on in the season per leaked internal documents:

Friday: The 2:30pm ET game will sometimes be shown live on FOX Soccer Plus, but will always be available live on FOX Soccer 2GO,

Saturday: FOX Sports 2 will feature a 30-minute game preview show beginning at 9am ET, followed by coverage of the one featured match from 9:25am to 11:30am ET on FOX Sports 2.

At the same time of the 9:30-11:30am ET game on FOX Sports 2, a different Bundesliga game will be televised on FOX Soccer Plus.

The other three 9:30am ET Bundesliga games will be shown live on FOX Soccer 2GO.

Following the 9:30am-11:30am ET game, FOX Sports 2 will air a rerun of UFC.

Then, at 12:25pm ET, FOX Sports 2 will feature 5 minutes of pre-game before the 12:30pm-2:30pm ET game is shown live. At 2:30pm ET, FOX Sports 2 will return to showing UFC reruns.

Sunday: There are two games on a Sunday — one that kicks off at 9:30am ET, followed by one that starts at 11:30am ET. In addition to all of these games being shown live and on-demand on FOX Soccer 2GO, select Sunday morning games will be shown on either FOX Sports 2 or FOX Soccer Plus.

For the first 3 weeks of the Bundesliga season, week 1 has one of the Sunday morning clashes on FOX Soccer Plus, week 2 has one of the games on FOX Sports 2 while week 3 has both games on FOX Soccer Plus.

Once again, soccer is reduced to a second class citizen by Fox Sports just as it had the opportunity to prove it meant it when it said it was taking the sport seriously.

Perhaps the most insulting is the fact that instead of showing off a property it has the live television rights to on at least one channel cable subscribers won’t have to pay extra for, Fox Sports is going to go with replays of old UFC events.

That’s right — live Bundesliga games have less value to the company than reruns that barely scratch the surface of ratings (and the ad revenue that comes with ratings). It’s a statement that makes those who remember the bad old days much more than the temporary feeling of the so-called “summer of soccer” pull back from the organization.

It’s also a statement that Fox Sports clearly hasn’t done its research in to how to grow an audience with competent and accessible coverage. Giving the Bundesliga prime treatment on FS1 on at least one of the two available mornings and perhaps even a commercial or two regarding its existence at all during the “summer of soccer” shouldn’t have been too much to ask.

Apparently it was, and it has me wondering what exactly was the point of buying the rights to a league you’re not serious about covering in the first place?

Soccer fans of 2015 aren’t the fans of 2005, and they have plenty of options to view European football. If Fox Sports was going for a way to differentiate its coverage, it found it and it isn’t a good thing. For those that remember the bad old days, Fox Sports gave them every reason to hate again and that’s just dumb business strategy.

Congratulations Fox Sports, you’ve managed to screw the very people you’ve clearly been coveting all “summer of soccer” long.

Unless there’s some huge deal to include FS2 in HD on big time cable players like Comcast and Time Warner, this looks increasingly like a bad deal for fans of the beautiful game in Germany.

Hope those UFC reruns are worth it Fox Sports.

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a college football and soccer enthusiast turned avid sports writer. He is a member of the FWAA and a contributor to The Comeback, as well as publisher of talking10 and a managing editor of MadTownBadgers and 32flags.

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