After this season is completed, the Champions League will be moving to the FOX Soccer Channel for the foreseeable future.
It’s not that ESPN has done a bad job. In fact I’ve been happy that ESPN has started covering more than one Champions League match per week (one on Tuesday and one on Wednesday) and always shows the final. For five years now I’ve watched as many of the matches as are available here in the States. And I even really enjoy the back-and-forth with Derek Rae and Tommy Smythe from the ESPN studios where the remotely call the games. That will be missed. And ESPN has in a way pioneered soccer on tv here in the States having held the rights to the Champions League (and its earlier equivalent) since the 1994-95 season.
But I’m happy any time ESPN loses out on even a tiny piece of the monopoly they’re trying to build across all sports. With Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, NBA, Monday Night Football and damn near every major conference’s college sporting events, not to mention the World Cup, early round Masters and myriad other events, ESPN has more than enough to get by. The FOX Soccer Channel does an excellent job of covering many different international leagues, including the English Premier League. Their matches are well-covered, the analysis is nice and unlike ESPN, available. FOX has pre-game, half-time and post-game shows where fans, especially casual ones, can learn a lot about the teams playing and the league in which the play. ESPN does none of that in this country.
One downside to this move is the availability of FSC is nowhere near that of ESPN or ESPN2. FSC appearing in around 35 million homes while ESPN reaches about 100 million (again, just in the US). But pure numbers of households does not automatically translate to viewership. In the 27 Champions League matches during last season, ESPN averaged about 255,000 households (I’m assuming that includes bars). The final in Moscow between Chelsea and Manchester United drew in about 800,000 households (and just over a million individual viewers). Of course any final between two English teams is going to be more highly viewed in this country. I’d love to see the numbers for the 2004 final between Porto and Monaco.
If FOX can get even 1% of its total households in the US to view Champions League matches each week, it will average almost 100,000 more viewers than ESPN ever had. The truth is that millions of people get ESPN but almost none care about soccer. That is evident in the numbers. 0.0026% of ESPN receivers actually tune in for the average Champions League match (which almost always includes at least one English club). People who get FSC are much more likely to watch it because there is no chance of seeing anything other than soccer on the network. In other words, you can’t be flipping through the channels and stumble on the FOX Soccer Channel and expect anything less.
I’ll be interested to see how the new coverage comes out. I’m happy that ESPN has carried the torch thus far. Let’s all hope that FOX can do an even better job of bringing us the world’s game.