Gus Johnson is the least of FOX Sports’ issues with its soccer coverage. With just over one year to go before the network begins its broadcast of a worldwide soccer event — the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup — FOX Sports is more out of touch and disconnected from the average soccer fan in the United States than ever before.
Discontent is growing among soccer fans who are becoming aggravated by FOX Sports’s seemingly unwillingness to change and improve its coverage. The network keeps on making the same mistakes over and over again, with no clear vision of what it wants its soccer coverage to be.
Take, for example, its decision to hire Piers Morgan as a panelist on Saturday’s FA Cup coverage of Arsenal against Wigan Athletic. While he’s opinionated, Morgan is a hack. He has no redeeming factors other than the skill of infuriating viewers — whether they’re Arsenal supporters or not.
With talent such as Piers Morgan and Gus Johnson on its books, it’s almost as if FOX Sports is deliberately trying to upset soccer fans.
While I believe that FOX Sports doesn’t care about the hardcore soccer fan and has its heart set on capturing the mainstream sports fan instead, the negative backlash the network continues to receive is increasing and is now having a detrimental impact on its soccer coverage and is being felt even among mainstream sports fans who are hearing and reading almost all-negative coverage. It’s one thing to upset the hardcore soccer fans, but when mainstream America is reacting negatively to its coverage, it’s another thing altogether.
Surely the network can’t continue this downward spiral. FOX’s idea of putting its own talent behind the mic and the TV screen is to increase ratings and to develop its own voice, but when the experience is so distracting that it tarnishes the enjoyment of the sport itself, it can’t help. FOX is getting in the way of the sport.
Meanwhile, both of its main competitors — NBC Sports and ESPN — continue to embrace the hardcore soccer fan, and the ratings prove it.
Regarding Gus Johnson and Eric Wynalda’s commentary of Wednesday’s Bayern Munich versus Manchester United, it was a mixed-bag. Last year, it was an agonizing experience trying to enjoy watching matches with Johnson commentating because it seemed that whenever Johnson improved, the co-commentator screwed up (as was the case with Ian Wright’s embarrassing co-commentary of Manchester United-Chelsea in the FA Cup). That was the case again Wednesday night when Johnson was much improved, but not flawless, compared to last week, while Wynalda put in his worst performance behind the mic to date.
From the beginning, Wynalda was a poor choice as a co-commentator because he’s been raving about Bayern Munich the past two seasons. While it’s perfectly fine to lavish praise on exemplary performances, Wynalda took it to an extreme during the game where he mentioned a couple of times his “love” for Pep Guardiola as a manager, as well as going on and on about the Bayern team. Meanwhile, Manchester United supporters and neutral fans had to put up with his talk, and his incessant discussion of overlapping runs throughout the broadcast.
The purpose of a co-commentator is to add insight and color to a broadcast. Wynalda provided none of that.
Where Johnson shined was during his calls for the goals by Patrice Evra and Mario Mandzukic. Both of them were fueled by so much raw energy and passion, which is where Johnson excels. Sadly, we have to put up with the other 88 minutes of the game where his commentary is filled with facts interspersed with mediocre to average announcing. This is not what hardcore soccer fans are craving, and I don’t believe it’s what mainstream American sports fans want either.
Do we trust FOX Sports with the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments? I think not.