While soccer fans in the United States were glued to their TV sets and Internet on Tuesday afternoon to watch Manchester United against Real Madrid on FOX Soccer, a major announcement was happening at the same time in New York City. At the Upfront Show in the Big Apple, FOX was pulling out all the stops to announce the forthcoming launch of FOX Sports 1, the new network launching in August that will cause a seismic shift in the US sports landscape.
While most of the media’s attention at the show was focused on what the announcement meant for traditional American sports, FOX Sports 1’s plans for soccer were unveiled albeit without mentioning a single word about what the outcome would mean for FOX Soccer, which will undoubtedly shut down as early as this summer.
For soccer fans, what was very revealing about FOX’s presentation on Tuesday was the man that was integral for the soccer portion was none other than FOX Soccer’s new lead commentator Gus Johnson.
At the same time that Johnson was in the gantry at Old Trafford in Manchester alongside Warren Barton on Tuesday afternoon, Johnson was included in a taped segment to promote FOX Sports 1 in front of the media, top brass and major advertisers.
FOX Sports has placed Gus Johnson on a pedestal as their new poster child for soccer in the United States.
That decision puts everything more clearly into perspective. The move to throw Johnson into the deep end to commentate four games thus far (both legs of Real Madrid-Man United, Arsenal-Bayern and Man City-Chelsea) makes sense from a business perspective. Create a buzz. Generate publicity. Give him experience. And set the stage for the future. In the mind of FOX Sports Co-President and COO Eric Shanks, Gus Johnson equals bigger revenue numbers (from a combination of greater advertising revenues and higher TV ratings as a result of the “Gus Factor”).
Putting Gus Johnson in the hot seat as FOX’s lead soccer commentator is a low risk game. All of the games that Johnson has and will commentate will be high-profile matches where there’ll be a lot of people tuning in (except for perhaps the Manchester City-Chelsea game, which — while high profile — kicked off at 8:30am ET on a Sunday morning, and FOX Soccer conveniently hasn’t shared the TV ratings). Plus, the bottom line, is that whether we love Gus Johnson’s commentaries or not, we’re going to be tuning into the games anyway because there are no other legal options to watch them other than some of the games on FOX Soccer 2Go, which has a subscriber base that is a minute percentage of the total US soccer community.