It is a season for thankfulness, and soccer fans, no matter their favorite team, have much to be thankful for (OK, maybe not Manchester United fans). Of all the things I am thankful for this year, one stands out: I’m thankful that the TV channel Fox Sports World has no reason to exist anymore, because there’s too much soccer on television on other channels.
Even after Major League Soccer kicked off in 1996, soccer was a niche sport in America, and the television listings reflected that. Fans with basic cable might get a single MLS game every week. Fans with nothing but rabbit ears on their TVs could count on seeing the World Cup and nothing else.
The one haven for soccer fans was Fox Sports World, which was usually buried in the far-flung reaches of the cable listing. Its schedule was irregular, and stuffed full of paid programming. It might show only three or four live soccer matches a week, while displaying a curious, consistent fondness for tape-delayed Australian Rules Football and motorcycle racing.
For soccer fans, it might not have been a good option, but it was the only option. In various seasons, the channel broadcast the English, German, Spanish and French leagues, as well as the Champions League and scattershot matches from elsewhere around the world. You were as likely to run into a big Brazilian match as you were the Premier League game of the week. Maybe more likely, given that the Premier League’s best matches were often offered on pay-per-view rather than on cable.
That said, the bewildering array of soccer on Fox Sports World was enough to turn me and thousands of others into global soccer lovers. The channel was like a soccer almanac come to life, and the seemingly indiscriminate nature of the scheduling only added to the charm. You’d tune in expecting to see a big match from England or Germany and find yourself watching two middling French teams, or maybe a week-old game from the Argentine league.
Of course, as soccer’s popularity exploded, one channel was no longer enough to contain it. In 2013, Fox Sports World left the cable lineup for good, having lost virtually all of its programming to other Fox channels or to other basic-cable brands.
Not that its loss is lamented. By my count, soccer fans with even fairly basic cable packages will this weekend be able to watch five games from England, five from Germany, both MLS playoff games, two games from Mexico and the quarterfinals of the U-17 Women’s World Cup. Fans with computers or smart TVs can subscribe to online services that will beam just about any game in the world.
Soccer fans have occasionally been accused of trying to force the sport down the throats of the American sporting public, but I maintain that it was mostly a push for this kind of TV coverage. It doesn’t matter how much anyone else likes soccer, as long as we’re free from the world of Fox Sports World. Now, the games we want to watch — whatever they are — are on TV. It’s enough to make any soccer fan thankful, whatever part of the soccer world he or she is into.