On Sunday night, ESPN wrapped up its World Cup coverage — it’s eighth World Cup since 1982 — with a beautiful closing montage before presenter Mike Tirico said that ESPN was handing off future World Cup coverage to a network further down the dial.
That network is, of course, FOX Sports, who after paying $425 million have the FIFA TV rights from 2015 to 2022, which will include the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, 2015 and 2019 Women’s World Cups, and 2017 and 2021 Confederations Cups.
As illustrated in the image above, the level of confidence among soccer fans and critics regarding FOX’s soccer coverage is at an all-time low. FOX Sports continues to ignore soccer fans, treats viewers with a lack of respect and employs talent who are not qualified to be on the airwaves.
At the same time, both ESPN and NBC Sports have raised the bar for soccer coverage in the United States, focusing on a proven formula of hiring world-class talent, and most importantly of all, speaking intelligently to soccer fans. In both cases, ESPN and NBC have record TV ratings to show for their hard work.
To date, FOX’s methodology has focused on trying to appeal to the masses (and, as a result, talking down to hardcore soccer fans), placing a higher priority on “fun” instead of quality analysis, and hiring talent that are talking heads who share no insight at all — to the point that most soccer viewers feel they’re better informed about what’s going on than the pundits themselves, which results in fans tuning in to the game coverage but skipping the pre-match, half-time and post-match analysis.
You would think that there would be accountability at FOX when pundits continue to “mail in” analysis in front of the TV camera or continue to make the same mistakes over and over. But there has been none to date. Either the executives at FOX Sports don’t realize that their so-called soccer pundits are making mistakes, or they don’t care.
Now that the World Cup is over, FOX Sports has an opportunity to hire a new team of talent that will help repair the network’s credibility among soccer fans.
So far, FOX has released no information regarding its plans for World Cup 2015, which will be the network’s first major tournament under the FIFA rights. The summer of 2015 also marks the start of FOX’s coverage of the Bundesliga, so the decisions that FOX makes in the coming days to weeks will be enormous.
Trying to second guess FOX is difficult since they’ve been known to make decisions out of left field, so I’ve listed below what my predictions are, as well as a few recommendations.
I can envision FOX Sports focusing much of its attention in the build-up to the 2015 Women’s World Cup on the US Women’s National Team, and paying lip service to the other 23 teams competing. Expect countless interviews and segments focused on Team USA, as FOX will play a key role in building up the hype for the USWNT for the next 11 months.