Remember the old days of soccer coverage in the U.S.? When Fox Soccer was
actually called Fox Sports World and only hipsters knew about it? Get ready for a possible return to the dark ages, and it could start sooner than you think. For those of you who aren’t soccer fans with too much time on your hands like those of us here at 452, multiple European leagues have had tv contracts that are up for renewal. This year The U.S. rights for La Liga, Serie A, and the EPL are all up for grabs, and the winners get to begin broadcasting in August for the first 2 leagues, and the EPL beginning in 2013. All of this matters because there appears to be a new kid on the block for U.S. rights, Al Jazeera.
Yes, you did read that right, Al Jazeera, a well-respected news organization anywhere that isn’t the U.S., has already grabbed the rights for La Liga and Serie A beginning next season, and is rumored to be making a bid for the U.S. rights to the EPL. In addition, several places have mentioned that the network has also won the rights to Ligue Un. With a winning bid for the EPL rights, Al Jazeera would own the U.S. rights to 4 of the 5 biggest European soccer leagues.
Now moving along from the likely American bashing of a network with an Arab name, the real concern for U.S. soccer fans is how easy it will be to view these matches. Al Jazeera is currently available on Dish Network in HD, but the channel is in Arabic, which makes it difficult for most fans to get access too. I would argue that in their current form, Al Jazeera is going to be in for a rough few years if their soccer coverage is restrained to one channel in Arabic.
That said, Al Jazeera is funded by the Qatar royal family, yes your conspiracy theories can start in the comments below, and they certainly have the money to spend on increasing Al Jazeera’s footprint in the U.S. Even without getting the EPL tv rights, Al Jazeera needs to make some sort of move, whether it is acquiring new stations, or starting them from scratch, if they have any hope of succeeding in this endeavor.
The problem for soccer fans is going to be getting access to these channels. If Al Jazeera was to acquire channels such as GolTV, or even Fox Soccer, access would be easy since most soccer fans have access to these channels. If the network decides to start from scratch however, things could get messy. There has been a history of new sports channels having difficulty getting started in the U.S., the Big Ten Network is a recent example, and until those problems are sorted out a lot of soccer fans could be out of luck.
It will be an interesting few weeks, especially with many fans waiting to see the outcome of EPL rights bidding war, as well as everyone waiting to see what Al Jazeera tries to do. The potential for an increase in soccer coverage is there, unfortunately we will all have to just sit back and wait it out.