American soccer fans can start writing the epitaph now: Fox Soccer will shutdown in September in order to make way for FXX, Fox’s new channel dedicated to the 18- to 34-year-old male demographic and compliment to FX.
Media reporters have noted that Fox Soccer would eventually suffer after it lost the rights to air English Premier League games to NBC last fall. Although Fox still retains the rights to UEFA Champions League matches and the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, losing one of its bedrock programming items to network television wound up casting a baleful outlook for the network’s continued longevity. Fox will air its soccer programming on Fox Sports 1 beginning with the network’s launch in August.
Fox started Fox Soccer as Fox Sports World in 1997 and has since become the 24-hour mecca for American soccer aficionados. It dabbled in other international sporting events–including cricket and rugby–before adopting the all-soccer-everything ethos and current name in 2005. It also fed the growing American appetite for big-name international soccer when other networks barely batted an eyelash at the sport when it didn’t concern the World Cup, top UEFA Champions League matches or the much-advertised, still-ignored American league, Major League Soccer.
Politico’s Dylan Byers had a good blog post about how this is cable networks’ set-up nowadays: when networks lose viewership, always re-market a channel towards a younger audience, especially when the two audiences who primarily watch soccer in the United states–12- to 24-year-old kids and Hispanics–will take longer to fully cultivate into regular viewers*.
Former Politico correspondent Avi Zenilman had a great response to Byers (included in Byers’ post), mentioning that Fox knows what it’s doing. Instead of keeping soccer as a niche, the company will blend it into Fox Sports 1 as a primetime event, consolidating its biggest assets as showpieces for the new network. It will also expose soccer to a greater audience, while giving lesser soccer events to customers on on-demand streaming sites. Because of Fox Sports 1’s potential profitability and viewership, it can now charge cable providers more for the service and rake in additional revenue through its Foxsoccer 2go.
So cut it up and re-package it in numerous products to make even more money. Sounds exactly like cable.
But give credit where credit is due to Fox Soccer. It showed that international soccer could spur interest in a typically disinterested American public and lead many to hem and haw over watching college football or EPL soccer on fall Saturdays. Fox Soccer, you will be missed.
* – As a side note, take into consideration that this week’s United State-Mexico World Cup qualifying match attracted 2.4 million viewers on ESPN. That makes the game the most-watched international soccer event in ESPN’s history, even if the game ended in a 0-0 tie.