The rumors that Speed, Fuel, and Fox Soccer were on their way out as channels are gaining more credence. John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal reported this afternoon that Fox is relaunching Speed and Fuel as Fox Sports 1 and 2 in August. Fox Soccer is expected to become FX2.
.@ourand_sbj reports Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2, similar to ESPN/ESPN2, will launch in August. Channels were previously Speed/Fuel.— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) January 26, 2013
So how exactly did we get to this point? Fourteen years ago if you were a fan of Manchester United, you could catch their games on a weekly pay-per-view broadcast (link). A channel called Fox Sports World had a Sunday evening highlight show with EPL teams, and Fox and EPSN would have the occasional Serie A, Bundesliga, and La Liga match.
That article talks about how the internet revolutionized the ability to follow your soccer club. E-mail lists connected fans without an ability to watch their team on TV. Soccernet.com and worldsoccernews.com provided world soccer perspectives, and Real Audio provided radio broadcasts.
Fox Sports World wasn't just about soccer. It carried late night rugby, Australian rules football, and F1 racing to go with the English Premier League rights it acquired.
''There's room for both of us, but we've made life tougher for them,'' said Tony Ball, the president of Fox/ Liberty Networks at the time. ''There's more interest in foreign sports now. It's heated up.'' (link)
ESPN and Fox were the soccer landscape from the 1994 World Cup on, with Fox the one willing to create a 24 hour soccer channel when it rebranded Fox Sports World as Fox Soccer in 2005. They made soccer so attractive that NBC Sports and beIN Sport have challenged for and won the rights to broadcast three of the big four soccer leagues in Europe (Gol TV, broadcaster of the Bundesliga, is independent).
As a 24 hour soccer network, Fox had to develop supporting programming like the Fox Soccer report but has also done behind the scenes things like Being Liverpool and Football's Next Star. NBC has shown it's willing to do behind the scenes programming with MLS, so hopefully they'll step up the supporting programming when they get the EPL broadcasts next year.
When Fox starts broadcasting the World Cup in 2018, I imagine it'll look a lot like ESPN's broadcasts of big soccer events, with supporting coverage directly before and afterward and not much else. I'm sure we'll get a few matches on big Fox, with the majority of the coverage of Fox Sports 1 and 2. Hopefully they'll continue to treat it with respect as they do on Fox Soccer, and not with kid gloves the way previous big Fox broadcasts have gone.
What of the on air talent? I'm sure Fox will bring them in as specialists on their news broadcasts, but I doubt Fox will have dedicated soccer shows with nothing major to broadcast until the 2018 World Cup. Yet, while this is certainly an end of an era, I don't think it's anything worth mourning.
Sports media personalities have a way of finding their way to other projects, and there's still a need for general soccer highlight shots. Cause lord knows SportsCenter isn't going to do it. I haven't gotten to check out beIN Sports programming, but I'm sure it's great. NBC needs to step up but they'll get there eventually.
Will the Fox Sports 1 & 2 experiment work? It's unlikely anyone is taking over SportsCenter's position as the destination for highlights. It'll depend on the Fox Sports Nets having events that folk want to watch. Folk were confused as to why ESPN put the Rose Bowl and the National Championship Game on ESPN instead of ABC, but it's events like that an Monday Night Football that keep ESPN the leader in cable programming.
The net goal? Not only expensive advertising but the ability to charge a high per subscriber fee. Time will tell if Fox gets there, but the big takeaway here is that soccer is thriving. The death of Fox Soccer is not a result of soccer lacking popularity. It was so popular that everyone else wanted to get in the game.