It took me a few weeks but I finally noticed that not only do I not get the channels that the Champions League games are broadcast on but I don’t get any of the Champions League games through my cable package. If this had been an Arsenal match, I would have almost certainly found another way to watch, but as it was just Champions League, I simply chalked it up to “not being on TV this week”. Admittedly, this only proves that I’m not that into Champions League matches.
That said, after a few tries and some looking around, I started to wonder why my cable service, Xfinity, wasn’t carrying Champions League. As my USA readers know, Champions League and Europa League rights were bought by Fox. Up until last year Fox split their broadcasts among three services: FS1 and FS2 which were broadcast channels and Fox Sports to Go which was an online service. This year, however, they are only broadcasting the Champions League on FS2 and their online service is now just part of your cable television package.
That turns out to be the problem: Xfinity doesn’t carry FS2. What’s going on here is that Fox is trying to force carriers like Xfinity to pay top price for their FS2 content and Xfinity has refused. I’m not really blaming one mega-corp over the other for this – they are both just doing what capitalist companies do. Instead, I like to think that Xfinity is saving me from having to watch the Fox Soccer half-time show, the Fox Soccer pre-game show, and any in-game commentary. To paraphrase Hitchhikers Guide “It’s a lucky escape for the Arsenal (fans).”
The good news is that Fox will no longer be hosting Champions League/Europa League matches after this season. Turner has bought the rights to all 280 matches starting in the 2018/19 season. The bad news is that Turner is going to spin off many of those matches into a streaming online (pay) service.
NBCsn has done something similar this season and many of these sports broadcast companies are doing the same with a bunch of their content. I don’t think this is going to be successful, however. The problem is that the majority of sports fans already pay close to (or more than) $100 a month for cable. Plus another $50 a month for internet. Plus then we have Netflix and Amazon.
I’m like a lot of other fans in that the only reason I have cable at all is for the sports. Turner will still be broadcasting four games a week through my cable. If Turner thinks they can get another $10 a month out of me to watch a few games a year, which they are deliberately putting behind a paywall, they are sorely mistaken. I think the vast majority of sports fans will watch these games over illegal streaming services rather than pay a special monthly fee to see their team via the official stream.
If you give me an option to just buy Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, and Champions League matches, and I could get them all streamed onto my television in high def, like Netflix does, I would be willing to pay for that. I would cut my cable. But these companies like Turner are caught between two worlds: the cable world which still forms the base of their income and wanting to exploit this new streaming world.
I have seen many sports streaming services come and go over the years. Even maintaining cable television broadcasts seems difficult, we had several of them simply go bankrupt over my 20 years of watching soccer on television in America. Maybe Turner will find the magic formula next season, but my guess is that they won’t.
It’s a bit funny because us viewers here in America are at least partly to blame for the recent influx of investors, the huge money television contracts in the Premier League, the distortion of the Premier League into the most expensive club competition in the world, and the dismantling of the traditional, local, culture around these sports teams. We got it for free for years, while all that took place and we just watched from afar, cheering on the record signings, and now we are being asked to pay for it.
For today, Arsenal will be on FS2 and on ESPN3. I think I get ESPN3 as part of my cable package, though it is en Español.