From PBS to FOX: An Abridged Look at Soccer Coverage in America

As I’m enjoying the Women’s World Cup and excited that not only will all games will be shown live, but several will air on Fox NETWORK in PRIME TIME, I’ve reflected on how much has changed in the last several decades. Trying to watch soccer on cable-free television in the 1980s was a challenging experience.

As a kid, my fondest memory in the early 1980s was watching “Soccer Made in Germany,” a weekly series on PBS. It’s where I first learned about this super team called “Bayern Munich” and watched these incredible athletes on my 19” color television.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOTchs7zDGI

As great as that was, it was merely a palate cleanser for the high expectations of the quadrennial World Cup. But when the World Cup came, it only showed that Americans were behind the rest of the world when it came to television coverage.

I vaguely remember watching a few World Cup 1986 games on NBC, including the final. My years of watching the Bundesliga grew my affinity for West Germany, which made its 3–2 loss to Maradona’s Argentina a tough pill to swallow. However what was really tough is when NBC aired commercials DURING play, routinely missing goals while Americans were being sold cars and beer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaBMCDa7OdM

Fast-forward to 1990, and this time U.S. Soccer was in the World Cup for the first time since 1950. Unfortunately, TV coverage wasn’t that much better. Rights went to TNT, commercials still lingered and U.S. Soccer crashed out in the first round.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJcNnU4Z_vY

The first Women’s World Cup in 1991 was even worse. I can only remember watching the final game, delayed a day (?), week (?) at my grandma’s house. Fuzzy pictures from China showed the U.S. winning its first championship.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeB5fykxtwU&index=6&list=PLNinxJwILe6-IrlUlxeVuqLVbU1sn8Kbv

As the U.S. was hosting the 1994 men’s tournament, and we found out that ESPN and ABC were covering the event, there was a sense that we were turning a corner.

I remember one particular friendly, vs. Germany in 1993, where I started to see the change in television coverage. The game would be shown in its entirety with NO commercial interruptions.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ycbwB-a_k4

This is something we take for granted now, but back then this was HUGE for American audiences.

From 1994–2006, we continued to see great strides made in overall television production and access.

By 2010, two key factors led to the growth of the game: HD-quality programming, and social media.

http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2010/06/16/twitter-servers-cant-keep-up-with-world-cup-traffic/

I was proud to contribute to several fail whales during that summer.

https://twitter.com/markmoh/status/16861514627

And now, in 2015, we’re seeing Fox Sports take this year’s World Cup VERY seriously. Between Champions League, World Cup, Major League Soccer and all the other leagues around the world, soccer is available to us all the time.

As I watch our U.S. team take on Australia live today, it’s something I’ll always appreciate and never take for granted.