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FOX Soccer makes encouraging NWSL debut

Laura Harvey, Seattle Reign FC

The NWSL on Fox -- which debuted with Mark Parsons' Washington Spirit losing to Seattle -- is off to a good start. (Photo Copyright Amanda McCormick | www.amandamccormick8.com)

The National Women’s Soccer League made its long-awaited debut on FOX Soccer on Sunday, giving the fledgling women’s league a much-needed presence on national TV.

As a production, it was a success. The numbers, while not spectacular, were about what could be expected.

Seattle’s 2-1 win over Washington on Sunday drew a Neilsen rating of 0.10 — the same that Women’s Professional Soccer drew in its opening weeks in 2009 (which was equal to MLS broadcasts at that time) — and averaged 63,000 viewers, which is based on per-minute averages.

WPS ratings sunk to an average of just over 30,000 viewers per broadcast, on average, according to one source.

The three-person team of Steve Cangialosi (best known in New York on MSG) on play-by-play, Lori Walker (Ohio State women’s soccer coach) and ex-U.S. international defender Heather Mitts showed few signs of this being their first TV game of the season, despite it being two-thirds complete.

All three were prepared and informed with even the small nuggets of information that could have slipped through the cracks without doing some homework (like knowing Seattle’s Jessica Fishlock and Kaylyn Kyle are one yellow card from suspension, and that Washington had questionably flown into Seattle for the game just the night before).

The addition of Mitts on the sideline (who will rotate the role with Walker, Kate Markgraf and Angela Hucles) proved valuable as well. It gave Fox the option for an on-field interview that was used as a tease during Gold Cup postgame coverage and helped in relaying information about Spirit defender Ali Krieger undergoing concussion testing after knocking heads with Kyle just before the 60th minute.

There were some pieces of information that could have used some more explanation for first-time NWSL watchers, mainly the reason that the Spirit had a new coach. Mark Parsons was mentioned as taking over the team in the last two weeks, but there wasn’t any chatter about Mike Jorden’s firing.

Production

There were valid complaints about the sun creating moving shadows on the field, but the decision to face the camera toward the main grandstand (as opposed to a few small bleachers) was a good one. Yes, the sun and the angle of the camera made it tough on the eyes at times, but ugly, unpopulated backdrops are eyesores, too.

Filed under small things that don’t go unnoticed: Credit to the production team for picking out Eddie Johnson, Shalrie Joseph and some Seattle Sounders teammates in attendance and getting them on camera in the second half. Cangialosi’s ability to discuss them and easily identify them is another benefit to his MLS background.

Game choice

The biggest issue with the broadcast is something not necessarily (or, at least, solely) even in Fox’s control: selection of which game to air. The Seattle-Washington match ended up being a fairly entertaining affair, but why Portland Thorns FC hosting the Western New York Flash — the ‘Abby Wambach vs. Alex Morgan matchup that ended up being the match of the year thanks to goalkeeping — was not the game of choice to debut on Fox is puzzling.

Yes, it would have required the game time in Portland to be changed. It would have meant a tweak to the schedule if having a home Seattle match was important. But the environment of 13,000 engaging fans, combined with the stars and the importance of the game, seemed to be a no-brainer.

The league’s stance on that, per NWSL Dir. of Communications Patrick Donelly, is as follows: “There are always options but we never considered changing the first game.”

There’s more to it, obviously, but I would sincerely hope that Portland-Western New York was strongly considered for the first TV game.

Integration

Perhaps the most impressive and promising with the start of NWSL on Fox coverage is the level of integration the media outlet is giving the broadcast through other areas of the company. The first-ever broadcast was teased several times during Gold Cup play and Fox Soccer News — a daily one-hour recap of the day’s action — gave play to not only the highlights, but scores from around the league as well as standings, providing some background for fans.

Highlights of all three goals were available immediately online (which is pretty standard, but in NWSL, it’s about baby steps) and the game got pretty good play digitally, with both a feature preview from Beau Dure and a place high in the home page headline stack as soon as Seattle wrapped up the win:

This is all part of Fox’s push to market the U.S. women’s stars ahead of the media outlet’s 2015 World Cup debut. The Women’s World Cup will be the first event for Fox as FIFA World Cup rights shift to the company. The 2014 World Cup will be ESPN’s last, for now, anyway.

Fox wants the average American to be used to seeing Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach and Hope Solo on their networks. They even want you used to their analysts having good background on these players (Mitts’ inclusion as a main member of Tuesday’s Gold Cup coverage is notable).

So for Fox, building the NWSL works toward getting the American audience used to the U.S. women as they gear up for the 2015 World Cup, which is really a test run for the grand stage in 2018.

Heck, Morgan is even in this promotion for the new Fox Sports 1 channel debuting next month:

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