On Saturday afternoon, something rare will take place on American network TV. NBC and FOX will be showing soccer at the same time on two of the four main free to air TV networks. NBC will have Chelsea vs. Manchester United at 12:30 et and FOX will have an FA Cup Semifinal between Reading and Arsenal at noon et. If you remember what it was like years ago to find soccer on TV, you would never believe a day like Saturday was ever going to come.
Ten years ago, I remember not being able to watch that much soccer in America. ESPN showed the occasional MLS game on the weekend but forget about watching European soccer. There would maybe be one EPL game on a month, typically on Monday afternoon and Manchester United seemed to always be playing in the game. Once the later rounds in the Champions League started, some of those games would be on American TV but if you were in high school, like I was ten years ago, you weren’t watching too many soccer games as a kid because they were all during the week.
Fast forward to five years ago and I was in college, I remember things got a bit better. The wider availability of high speed internet and multimedia online as well as the rise of social media all made the soccer world closer than it had ever been, particularly when it came to European soccer being shown in America. A lot more EPL games were shown on TV as FOX Soccer Channel and ESPN had the contract and FOX Soccer Channel showed the majority of Champions League games.
Even with the wider availability, those channels seemed to favor big matchups for the TV audience and the only game shown on network TV at the time was FOX showing the Champions League Final. And, while it was available to a wider audience, the broadcast was geared toward viewers who had absolutely no clue about soccer and who never watched a game in their life. I still cringe when I’m reminded of the Michael Strahan “football vs. futbol” segment FOX had for the pregame show. That just insulted everybody’s intelligence, even the viewer who knew nothing about soccer. It still leaves a bad taste in some fans mouths when they hear the words “FOX” and “soccer” together, even though in 2015, they aren’t nearly as bad as that.
At the time, if you wanted to watch games that didn’t feature the biggest teams or teams who had Americans (Fulham was on a lot back then because of Clint Dempsey), you had to resort to other methods to get your soccer fix. Most of the time, that involved trying to find a horrible quality online stream of the game that can get taken down at any time and you risked getting some sort of virus on your computer. Those were the days.
That all changed when NBC announced that they had purchased American TV rights for the English Premier League starting in the 2013-14 season. They did the unprecedented and provided every single EPL game on TV and online as well as putting the Saturday 12:30 et game on regular NBC. They also got a studio crew together who respected the intelligence of the viewer and didn’t resort to the kind of to the “lowest common denominator” pandering that FOX had done with Michael Strahan. They showed respect to the EPL, respect to the fans and viewers, put some production value behind the broadcast and they are reaping the rewards of being one of the most respected broadcasts among the American sports networks. That marked the beginning of what we see today.
Today, there is live soccer on American TV just about every day. We have the ability to legally watch a vast majority of leagues worldwide. We have come such a long way in soccer coverage in America that we complain when FOX puts a game on FOX Sports 2 because most people either don’t have the channel or don’t have it in HD. Five years ago, we had to sometimes watch games streamed with the help of a potato and now complain on Twitter when it’s not in 720p HD.
On Saturday, two soccer games will be shown at the same time on half of the main free to air national TV networks and available for anyone in America to watch. One of those games involves a team who isn’t even in the EPL. Reading, a Championship team, will be on the main FOX network. Five years ago, hardly anyone in America would know who Reading was and definitely would’ve never seen them play on American TV. Now, they share the American TV stage with Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea in front of a national audience and we all think that’s a normal occurrence. When something amazing like this happens, I remember what it was like trying to watch soccer in the “dark ages” of soccer on American TV and have a little laugh every time I see someone complaining on Twitter that FOX Sports 2 isn’t available in HD. I also think to myself that even though it’s great now, it’s going to get even better in the future. Looking forward to what’s coming up.