It looks like there’s about to be a big shakeup among Fox’s cable properties. First, Fox Soccer Channel may soon disappear. Since NBC won rights to the upcoming 2013-2014 English Premier League season, beating out a joint bid by Fox and ESPN, Fox will soon not have the rights to enough games to program a soccer-only network.
Meanwhile, Fox is planning to split its successful FX network into two separate networks, one for comedy and one for drama. Many are speculating that Fox Soccer Channel will turn into the new, comedy-focused second FX network, tentatively to be called FXX.
The shift is part of some significant changes coming in the television landscape for soccer fans in the U.S. While it’s encouraging that there’s now so much interest in the English Premier League here in the U.S. that NBC was willing to pay four times what had ever been paid in the past for the rights to the coming season, ESPN’s coverage of the EPL games they had the rights to was stellar and a big part of what led to European soccer fandom finally becoming almost mainstream here. It will be a shame to lose that.
I especially hope that the ace commentary team of Ian Darke and Steve McManaman, in my opinion the best in the business in any sport, can keep on American airwaves somehow, perhaps on the NBC Sports network where most of these games are likely to be shown.
This post at The Big Lead has a good breakdown of what the U.S. television landscape will look like for soccer fans starting with the next European club season. ESPN still has some MLS games as well as the rights to the next World Cup (2014) and Euro Cup (2016). Meanwhile, Fox is in the curious position of still having the rights to the Champions League and the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, with no sports network to show them on and no domestic or EPL games to show.
Fox is also in the process of trying to create a sports channel, possibly to be called Fox Sports 1, built from what is now the racing-focused Speed network, so perhaps they could show some of the soccer games there. Or, if soccer continues to grow in popularity in the U.S. perhaps they could even show most or even all of the World Cup games on the Fox network proper, as they already have some bigger EPL and even FA Cup matches.
Meanwhile, NBC has all the EPL games to be shown in the US this coming season as well as most of the MLS games. Most of these will be broadcast on the NBC Sports Network but some could even be shown on NBC itself. Upstart beINUSA, which is backed by Al Jazeera, has the rights to all Spanish, Italian, and French league games broadcast in the US and Spanish language stalwart GolTV still has the exclusive rights to all Bundesliga games shown on US TV.
If Fox does intend to turn Fox Soccer Channel into the new comedy-focused FXX channel, they will face the hurdle of convincing cable distributors to keep the channel. Most agreements between networks and cable companies have a clause saying that the cable company can drop the channel if there are significant programming changes. This is what allowed Time Warner Cable to drop Current TV earlier this month when it was sold to Al Jazeera.