FOX Soccer has a new face. Rob Stone, who began at ESPN in 1992 and returned to the network in 1997, will be the new lead studio host for FOX Soccer, as well as the face for soccer coverage on FOX Sports and FX.
Stone’s first assignment will be to host FOX’s coverage of Arsenal against Manchester United, which will be shown live on FOX Broadcasting Company on January 22 (11am ET). He’ll also be the new host on Goals On Sunday on FOX Soccer, as well as the host on FOX Soccer Match Day. His assignments will also include hosting the live coverage of Chelsea against Manchester United on Super Bowl Sunday, and being the lead anchor for FOX Soccer’s coverage of the remainder of the 2010-11 Champions League, leading up to the final this spring.
In other changes by FOX, Eric Wynalda has shifted to become the lead studio analyst. As for Christian Miles, who before today was the host of Goals On Sunday and FOX Soccer Match Day, his status at FOX Soccer is unclear as of press time.
So what does this move mean for FOX Soccer and ESPN? Given Rob Stone’s warm personality and presence in front of the camera, as well as his professionalism and knowledge of the sport, it’s most definitely a good move by FOX. Stone will add instant credibility to the network. And the role will be a perfect opportunity for Stone to carve out his own place as “the face of soccer” in the United States especially given the quantity and quality of TV rights that FOX has recently acquired including the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments.
Stone replaces Miles, who despite his best intentions, never seemed to make as sincere of a connection with his audience as Stone had made at ESPN. Having said that, it’ll be interesting to see how Stone adapts to FOX Soccer and vice-versa. Hopefully Stone will be able to add a less rehearsed and less scripted feel to the coverage and analysis from FOX. Nevertheless, swapping talent isn’t going to immediately win over fans. FOX needs to up its game in the level of dialogue and analysis on its shows to make it worthwhile for soccer fans to watch. Currently the level of analysis and discussion is severely lacking.
By moving Wynalda from the lead studio host on Champions League coverage to a permanent seat as lead studio analyst, it seems that FOX has made a sound decision. But whether this formula will work depends on how much freedom Wynalda has to speak his mind and provide expert analysis. Wynalda is more candid when giving his views off air, such as on podcasts and in social media. Hopefully FOX Soccer can find a way to bottle up those opinions and give Wynalda the forum to share his ideas and criticisms in front of the TV camera.
What does Rob Stone going to FOX mean to ESPN? I think many viewers who watch soccer on ESPN will miss Stone, but the reality is that ESPN has a long list of talent to choose from to replace Stone including Max Bretos, Adrian Healey, Bob Ley, Dan Thomas and Andrew Orsatti. So while the departure of Stone is a loss for ESPN, they have enough talent to fill the hole left by the ESPN veteran.