Comcast and Fox Soccer finally agree to HD coverage

In the best news for American soccer fans in nearly a year, Comcast will finally carry the Fox Soccer Channel in high definition.
Finally, the agony can end. The pain, the wet hot tears, the fuzzy slippers thrown at the TV in anguish - all of that can finally be erased. Just take a big sigh and let it all out.

Buried at the bottom of a New York Times article about Fox Soccer's coverage of the Champions League final was a note containing the biggest news for American soccer fans since Landon Donovan poked the ball into the back of the Algerian net: Comcast has finally – after years of strenuous eye-squinting and blurry blobs – agreed to carry the Fox Soccer Channel in high definition.

Comcast has the largest market share of any multichannel video programming distributor in America, reaching nearly 23 million subscribers as of Dec. 2010, according to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. That's a good 3 million more than DirecTV and almost double Time Warner's 12 million.

For many apartment buildings across the country, Comcast is the only option available. And, in some cases, such as Ann Arbor, Mich., Comcast holds a monopoly in towns in return for fees and services to the local government (in Ann Arbor's case, funding four local, public access and government channels).

All of that is fine. Somebody's got to be the biggest, and complaints about every provider's service are myriad. But then Fox Soccer began offering HD in Jan. 2010. Everyone else eventually came around and carried it by April. Except, of course, Comcast.

Things got especially gruesome when Fox Soccer stopped sending out a signal cropped for standard definition, meaning several good inches were lopped off each side if one caught a game via Comcast. Not only were viewers subjected to mushy, blurry picture which makes it difficult to identify players unless a closeup shot is shown, but now they also missed good swathes of action when the player with the ball dipped out of the provided dimensions into the margins or the camera shot didn't swing far enough to include the goal.

Avoiding the Fox Soccer Channel was, in most cases, the best option. ESPN carried the U.S. national team games and some of the more high-profile matches in MLS, the EPL, and La Liga. GolTV took care of the rest of La Liga, the Bundesliga and South American ball. The Spanish-language channels were all over the Mexican league. Even, with a decent internet connection or through the Xbox, provided better picture than FSC, and that covered Serie A and Portugal, among others.

But the one killer was the Champions League. Usually one CL game a matchday broadcast on a Fox affiliate in HD, but for the rest, viewers were subjected to numbingly painful standard definition.

“I am not a fan of the Dish Network or DirecTV, but it is frustrating to not be able to watch games in HD,” James Quijano, a Morientes fan who lives in the Bay Area, told “I have a 50-inch plasma TV and seeing the Champions League on Fox Soccer Channel sucks. I used to watch it on ESPN HD and the change to Fox Soccer has been nothing short of a let down.”

Until now.

Now, just about anyone who wants to watch soccer in HD can. Now, the birds are chirping. Now, flowers are blooming and a gorgeous rainbow straddles from Alaska to Florida. Now, we know what kind of change Obama was really talking about, and all can agree that he has delivered.

Indeed, it's a spectacular time to be a soccer fan in America. As opposed to a few decades ago, when kids could only catch Soccer Made In Germany, a review show on PBS, nearly every major league is readily available live. Univision is set to launch a 24-hour sports channel in HD, which will lean heavily on soccer programming, with the stated goal of challenging Fox Soccer and ESPN Deportes.

So sit back. Flick on the tube. And take in the beautiful game in glorious high definition on your channel of choice. One day you'll laugh as you try to explain to your children the horrors of standard definition. But for now you're just overcome with emotion at the thought of Rooney vs. Messi in crystal clear picture.

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