Thursday, January 4, 2007

What to Watch

When I first committed to a full-time life of being obsessed by football, I figured I would have fairly limited options for what games I could watch and when I could watch them. That turned out to be far from the truth. While fans in the U.S. don’t get many chances to watch great teams play live, our options for televised viewing of games is about as good here as it is anywhere in the world, presuming you have cable or satellite television and a few bucks to spend. What follows is a rough guide to help people new to football fanaticism (as I was just a short time ago) find out the best channels to watch the best games on TV.


GolTV constantly advertises itself as the oldest football channel in North America, and despite some serious problems with the station, it is still my favorite.

GolTV televises La Liga games in the United States, which, as I have said, is my favorite football league in the world. This effectively means that Gol televises almost every Real and Barca game with the rest of the league occasionally mixed in. Gol also has decent coverage of Series A in Italy, although there too they understandably focus on the bigger clubs. Gol also covers games in North and South America, and often times one can find hidden gems in their schedule, especially with some of the good games they show from the Argentine league. Gol also has a few football-related shows worth watching, including 45/45, a smart talk show about world football that is dubbed into English.

GolTV has a number of technical problems which frustrate fans of the channel. The sound quality is often poor during games, thus sometimes you can hardly hear the crowd at all. Glitches occasionally interrupt the sound or pictures of the game. Most frustratingly, occasionally the announcers are not up to par; they are up-to-speed well enough with the big clubs (like my Real Madrid or AC Milan) but seem to have only a passing knowledge of the lesser teams.

Still, GolTV is a must-have if you are going to watch football in America. It is included in the basic packages of some cable and digital companies, while others (like Comcast, my cable provider) charge a small fee to receive the channel. For all of GolTV’s faults, it’s worth it.

Fox Soccer Channel

FSC is another required channel for football viewing in America. The bread-and-butter of the station is that it televises about half of the English Premiership’s games here in the states. Thus, if you want to watch big clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, or Liverpool, this is the channel to turn to. FSC also has decent coverage of Series A and special events like the recent world club championship. They also have solid football news programs at night and the enjoyable “Fox Football Fone-in” on Tuesdays at eight, where lonely shut-ins from around the country can call and bitch about Chelsea.

The production values of FSC are better than Gol (they probably spend more money) and the announcers tend to be better because they pipe in the guys who are actually calling the game for British TV; whether you like them or not they seem to know their stuff. On the downside, and despite their showing of Italian games, FSC is focused almost exclusively on English soccer; everything else almost seems like an afterthought. If you think “ManU” is the greatest club in history or that Steven Gerrard is the greatest player of all time, than FSC is probably right up your alley. For those with a more open view of the rest of the world’s football, FSC is great but is just one of an important list of stations carrying the beautiful game. Still essential, regardless of how you feel about the English game, however, when all is said and done.

The deal with FSC is similar to Gol; basic with some companies, but you have to pay a little extra with others. Comcast sells Gol and FSC together as a “sports package.” I believe it is well worth it.

ESPN Family

The family of channels owned by ESPN shows some of the best football in the world; they just don’t show that much of it. First off, ESPN and its parent company, the ABC network, shows the World Cup finals. They also show many of the matches of the Champions League.

I will write more later about the Champions league; but suffice to say that I think it is perhaps the greatest sports tournament in the world. ESPN, on its “family” of networks carry about half the games; the channels include ESPN, ESPN Classic, and ESPN Deportes, among others. The announcing is all right on ESPN and the production values are quite good. The single most frustrating thing about ESPN’s coverage of the champions league is that they post the scores of the other games going on while broadcasting a game. (Many Champion’s League matches are played at the same time.) As a result, if you are going to watch a game on ESPN, it seems you are going to see the scores of all the games played that day.

ESPN and most of its family is included basic cable packages. Unfortunately this does not include ESPN Deportes, which often shows some of the best matches. This is similar to FSE (Fox Sports en Espanol) which also shows some great games.


I did not place Setanta so far down on the list as a comment on its quality; in fact, I do not even get Setanta myself. It is a premium station only available through some cable providers.

Setanta has a big slate of football on its station, but its calling card is that it has the rights in the US to the “other” half of the premiership that is not shown on FSC. For some reason (probably because they paid more for the rights) Setanta gets first pick of many of each weekend’s games, and thus Setanta often times has better games than FSC. If you are a fan of the premiership and English football, you should definitely look into Setanta. So far it is only available with certain cable packages (like DirectTV) although there is apparently a special box one can purchase to get the station on other services. As I learn more about this I can pass it along to my readers.

The people I do know who have Setanta like it very much, although they concede that it is quite expensive.


Depending on where you live in the U.S., you can also get lucky with more regional telecasts of games. Some Spanish language channels other than the ones listed above, for instance, carries games from Mexico and South America. I’m lucky enough to live in an area with a large Portuguese population, and thus we have a local Portuguese channel than occasionally shows league games from the land of Figo and Christiano Ronaldo.

I hope this list helps people some people. I know I wish I had something like this when I was first starting out.

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