I have written about my love of NBC Sports Network's "Match of the Day" program in the past, and discussed ESPN's daily soccer show, "ESPN FC" more than a year ago.
Fox Sports shelved their daily soccer show, "Fox Soccer Daily," some time ago, and for the most part, I don't really miss it. That said, "ESPN FC" has dropped in quality in recent months, for one simple reason.
No, it's not the talent, which remains the same as it ever was (some combinations are better than others, but topics chosen for discussion are the key factor in determining good TV), and it's nothing to do with MLS, since I think they generally do a solid job of covering the league, for being a 30-minute show during the week. Could they cover MLS more? Of course, but I mostly understand why England and Spain get the lion's share of global soccer coverage these days.
The problem "ESPN FC" has is that they have stopped showing any highlight clips from beIN Sports since around August. That means zero clips of La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1, the Copa del Rey, and of note right now, the Africa Cup of Nations.
Why is this a problem? By my unscientific estimation, the show devotes probably a quarter or so of their coverage weekly to these leagues/competitions, most notably anything to do with Real Madrid and Barcelona. Absurdly, they sometimes open shows talking about what Lionel Messi/Cristiano Ronaldo did now, without actually setting anything up, then getting around the lack of highlights by showing what the Spanish sports press has put on their front pages. Gah.
So it seems pretty clear that "ESPN FC" is either expressly forbidden by beIN Sports from showing highlight clips, or refuses to pay the fees to use those clips. If it's the former, there's not a lot ESPN could do about it, though it seems pretty unusual in the context of American sports media, but if it's the latter, that's a major problem.
Since we don't know the direct reason for ESPN suddenly not playing any clips from beIN Sports properties, I guess we can ask what they can do about it. Short of negotiating a way to actually show the clips, which is the preferred scenario in all circumstances, there are a couple options.
One, "ESPN FC" could simply stop talking about match results without highlight clips. I'm actually surprised they don't do this, since it's been a hallmark of coverage of other ESPN shows. We all know that "Sportscenter" coverage is overwhelmingly sports of which ESPN owns the broadcast rights, which is quasi-ugh but also understandable from a business perspective. By contrast, "ESPN FC" will spend eight minutes at the top of their show talking about how Gareth Bale was chewed out by Cristiano Ronaldo for not passing to him, but show a solitary photograph to "represent" the story visually. Why does this matter? Because the show is on television, and not a podcast.
If they don't want to do that, which would alter the show's objective considerably, then they need to package the stuff that they don't have clips for differently. I need to be spoon-fed minus video clips, so explicitly tell me what happened in the game (part of the reason I watch "ESPN FC" is because I can't watch all the big games everyday), who scored, and then introduce your discussion topic, while, I dunno, maybe showing multiple photos from the game to provide visual context. By just jumping into, "Is Ronaldo a jerk or a total jerk?" without talking about the context of the game, what do I care? Did Real Madrid win by five goals? Did they lose? That's information that might be of interest to viewers who didn't or couldn't watch the game.
If you watch the closest equivalent to "ESPN FC" on beIN Sports, "The Express," it's entirely coverage of their own stuff. In that way, it's equivalent to "Match of the Day," in being supplemental coverage around match coverage on their network(s). Fair enough. In many respects, I prefer these shows, because I like watching highlights best of all.
But "ESPN FC" has a slightly different objective. It's essentially the catch-all soccer show in the United States right now, trying to cover the beautiful game from the U.S., but with a global outlook. And if they are serious about covering the game globally, which is a niche that I think is useful, then they've either got to come to a settlement with beIN Sports or change up how they're covering competitions for which they don't have access to clips. Necessity is the mother of invention, ESPN, so here's hoping they can be creative with how they cover soccer around the world in a daily show.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!