During the past two weeks, FOX Sports’ PR representatives have been busy at work securing interviews with top media outlets such as Esquire, Associated Press, Sports Illustrated, New York Post and, bizarrely, Rolling Stone. Their mission was to generate positive press about soccer commentator Gus Johnson in the lead-up to the UEFA Champions League Final in order to combat all of the negativity about the voice of FOX’s soccer coverage.
To FOX’s credit, the mainstream sports media bought the Gus Johnson story hook, line and sinker, taking the words of Johnson and FOX executives verbatim and, without any counterpoints or criticism, glorified the man that FOX Sports has groomed to be the voice of World Cup 2018 and 2022 (as well as Women’s World Cups 2015 and 2019).
But more importantly, the above-mentioned publications allowed FOX Sports to change the message. FOX’s new positioning about Gus Johnson is that he’s an “American voice” for American soccer fans instead of a British voice for hardcore soccer viewers.
In the Associated Press article, FOX Sports President Eric Shanks said it this way:
“I completely realize that Gus and Eric, having two American voices, is a change for the hard core, absolutely. It’s a change that I believe in.”
Obviously Shanks believes in the change since he championed it and rubber-stamped Johnson’s exorbitant contract. But the new positioning of Gus and Wynalda as “American voices” falls flat on its face because it’s not true. It’s not what soccer fans want.
Soccer fans want authenticity. Soccer fans want the best talent available to call a game, no matter what accent they speak with. The criticism of Gus Johnson has never focused on recommending English commentators. All along, the debate has focused on hiring the most authentic voices for the sport.
Soccer fans in the US don’t want just “American voices.” Soccer fans want the best voices for the job. If the decision is to hire American soccer voices, more power to FOX. But instead of hiring two American voices that are rookies when it comes to announcing soccer games, why not hire the best American talent available who are (1) more exciting than Gus Johnson, (2) qualified to do the job and (3) authentic — who know how to announce the game instead of the woefully weak combo of Johnson and Wynalda?
In my articles on the topic during the past 12 months, I’ve repeatedly made suggestions of better qualified commentators who could and should be hired full-time by FOX Sports — experienced American commentators such as John Strong, Phil Schoen, Glenn Davis and Steve Cangialosi. But the suggestions have fallen on deaf ears. Reason being is that FOX doesn’t care nor listen to the overwhelming majority of soccer fans in the US who are critical of the poor job that Gus has done calling games.
Instead of interacting with soccer fans and engaging with the soccer community, FOX is sticking to its guns with Gus Johnson and have gone to mainstream media to change the message, hoping that the trickle-down effect will influence sports fans. It won’t. Soccer fans are intelligent, well-educated and can see through FOX’s attempts to change the message.