Column: The beautiful game: 24/7

By Mike Szwaja

I can hardly contain myself. It’s a significant weekend for football in America, and I can’t wait to see what happens.

Yeah, I know what you’re saying.

“Big deal, Szwaja. You don’t have to tell us that.”

No, no. What I’m talking about has nothing to do with the Super Bowl. Besides, where’s the drama there? We all know it’ll be the Patriots by at least two scores.

I’m talking about football. The beautiful game. The world’s game. Soon to be yours and mine 24 hours a day with the click of a button.

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Something big … hopefully … is about to change the lives of American soccer fans forever. (I’ll refer to the game, regretfully, as “soccer” from here on out.)

As of Sunday night at 11 p.m., Fox will unveil the new Fox Soccer Channel – formerly Fox Sports World. Gone is cricket. Gone is darts. Gone is Aussie Rules Football. By August, rugby will be gone. All soccer. All the time.

Fox will give viewers a sneak peak at the new channel during the Super Bowl XXXIX Pre-Game Show, set for Sunday at 1 p.m. CST. At 11, FSC will open with a debut show featuring the channel’s new graphics, music and promotional messages. And perhaps most intriguing, Fox will unleash an “extensive consumer marketing campaign in support of the transition,” according to a statement released last month.

Eighty percent of the new channel’s programming will be focused around soccer competition, including the Barclays English Premiere League, the German Bundesliga, the French Ligue 1, the Argentine Torneo de Clausura and Major League Soccer. Not to mention the FA Cup, the UEFA Cup, the Champions World Series and English and U.S. World Cup qualifiers.

The way I look at it, it’s a perfect birthday gift for yours truly, who turns 22 on Monday.

With that said, I’m not completely sold on the channel fulfilling every need for us American soccer fans. I hope the dawning of this channel accomplishes what David Sternberg, Executive Vice President and General Manager of FSC, promises it will.

“We at Fox are committed to creating the single best place for American soccer fans, players, professional and amateur associations and business partners to converge and share in the phenomenal success of the sport,” Sternberg said.

That sounds nice, but here’s what Sternberg needs to do to reach his goals:

Don’t neglect the homeland. FSC will feature a new show called “Fox Soccer USA” that will focus on youth and amateur soccer in the U.S. That’s all we know for now, but that sounds like average programming at best. What about our stars? Freddy Adu? DeMarcus Beasley? Landon Donovan? Where is the show focusing on them?

“Fox Friday Football” will be a holdover show from Fox Sports World. Steven Cohen and Nick Geber dress in team kits and scarves and argue a la Kornheiser and Wilbon on a set that looks like a London bachelor pad. It’s fun, but only if you know soccer. The show alienates fans looking to become more interested in the world soccer scene for the first time.

Give us Beckham. David Beckham has vowed, once he finishes in Europe, to move to the U.S., start a youth soccer academy and help soccer grow in the one country it can’t seem to reel in. Beckham’s popularity soared during his world tour a couple years ago, but it has since drifted- thanks in large part to his mediocre play.

FSC doesn’t currently own the rights to Spain’s Primera Liga, which means there’s no way for the American audience to connect with Beckham, who plays for Real Madrid. FSC needs to secure the rights to Primera Liga, so we can reconnect with the man who promises to one day bring soccer to elite status in this country.

Inform us. Watching “Sky Sports News,” FSC’s version of SportsCenter, also alienates the American fan with confusing graphics and English dialects. FSC will need a SportsCenter-esque show that caters to Americans.

All this of course would cost FSC more money, but if this “extensive consumer marketing campaign” is successful, they should soon have the money to do it. In the mean time, enjoy the beautiful game.