Jay Bell–who once castigated Fox Soccer–applauds NBC’s effort
The dynamics of MLS broadcasting shifted this offseason when NBC won broadcasting rights for MLS and US Soccer matches over Fox. Through the bidding process and the early glimpses of NBC’s treatment of MLS, it seems as if the league’s new partner is embracing MLS more than Fox ever did.
I wrote on TSG about 18 months ago about Fox’s detrimental coverage of soccer, mainly on the Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Soccer Plus. Things improved incrementally in 2011 with HD becoming more widely distributed and FSC’s improved coverage of MLS. Soccer Night in America (not exactly a new idea) was an improvement in picture quality, commentary and discussion.
It’s hard for fans to be too displeased when you have the commentary of J.P. Dellacamera and Kyle Martino coupled with the sideline reporting of The Original Winger down on the Bumpy Pitch (see what I did there?)
Still, Fox never really embraced the league and has instead hitched the proverbial wagon to the English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League. The network’s attachment to non-MLS soccer continued with an upset victory in claiming the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
2014 will be a very interesting year for the future of MLS broadcasting when both deals with ESPN and NBC expire. How will ESPN act on soccer going forward without rights to the World Cup? Will NBC have seen enough evidence in the first three years to continue the partnership? Will Fox jump back in?
For now, MLS fans can enjoy coverage on the NBC Sports Network and the occasional game on NBC (again, a step up from Fox). MLS is now receiving cross-channel and cross-platform marketing that it did not receive from Fox.
NHL thrived on Versus. The league gets better broadcast and informational coverage now, something that MLS fans are hoping to receive. The channel has been re-branded as the NBC Sports Network and the early numbers have been less than desired. If the MLS season arrives just in time to see ratings rise, then the relationship between MLS and NBC could grow even stronger.
That will be up to MLS fans. They should be encouraged to watch the games, get their friends to watch the games, watch the talk shows and provide feedback. It is up to MLS fans to prove to NBC that the investment in MLS was a fruitful one.