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What Will FOX Sports’ World Cup Coverage Look Like?

fox world cup doomsday 600x510 What Will FOX Sports World Cup Coverage Look Like?

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.

Predictions:

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.

I predict FOX Sports will keep presenter Rob Stone along with pundits Eric Wynalda, Warren Barton and Brian McBride. Expect FOX to give Julie Stewart-Binks a prominent role, since she can add a Canadian perspective to the broadcast (the Women’s World Cup will be hosted across Canada). Expect Mark Rogondino to be featured too either as a commentator or sideline reporter.

FOX will need to hire several experts on women’s soccer. FOX will probably try to hire Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and Kate Markgraf — to name a few.

I expect FOX will try to hire John Strong on a permanent basis, so he’ll be one of the commentators along with JP Dellacamera.

Expect FOX to find a way to keep Grant Wahl on its books, too.

The biggest issue that FOX Sports has is that it’s a very male-oriented network that doesn’t lend itself well to women’s soccer. FOX needs to change that next summer. The network has already stated that Gus Johnson will be commentating many of the Women’s World Cup games, so you’ve now got a very macho (shouting, deep voice, etc) lead commentator trying to appeal to an audience that is expecting what we saw from ESPN during the 2011 and 2007 Women’s World Cup tournaments.

FOX has a lot of work cut out for them to make 2015 a success. My prediction is that FOX will stubbornly stick to its current formula (to hell with hardcore soccer fans) and make small changes to get through World Cup 2015, so it won’t have to be worry about the tough decisions for 2018 until 2017 at the earliest.

Recommendations:

Now that the World Cup is over, it’s time to clear house at FOX Sports. We’ve seen that the trio of Rob Stone, Warren Barton and Eric Wynalda are not cut out for the job, so if the network is going to make changes, now is the time to do it in order to bring in a new crew that can debut for the UEFA Champions League coverage and lead soccer fans through the European club season and national team qualifiers, into MLS starting in the spring, building them up for the Women’s World Cup next summer and kicking off the coverage of the Bundesliga in August 2015.

FOX has invested heavily in the past 1-2 years on future rights to the World Cups (for 2015-2022), Bundesliga (2015-2020), MLS & USMNT (2015-2022) and European qualifiers (2014-2018). Now that they’ve spent all those millions of dollars on rights, it’s time for FOX (who are notorious for paying low salaries to its employees; Gus Johnson excepted) to spend money on hiring the best talent available to round out its coverage. There’s no point having the rights to all of these tournaments and leagues from around the world if the talent is going to be below average.

Beginning September, 2014, FOX has enough regular, ongoing soccer coverage through at least 2018 (and beyond) to make it worthwhile to bring in a team of quality talent that can wow viewers. The challenge will be finding the talent that is available, knowledgable and has the right chemistry. Plus the other challenge is trying to find talent that can be well versed in the Champions League, Europa League, MLS, Women’s World Cup and Bundesliga. FOX may have to increase the number of talent at their disposal in order to be able to cover the leagues.

FOX needs to keep some of the talent it already has such as JP Dellacamera, Brian Dunseth and Mark Rogondino. All three are hard-working professionals who deserve more air-time.

Meanwhile, while these pundits were excellent footballers during their time, the sooner FOX gets rid of Mario Melchiot and Mikael Silvestre, the better. Neither man offers any valuable insight other than stating the obvious.

So, who should FOX try to sign for its coverage? The list is endless (including commentators, analysts, presenters and co-commentators), but some recommendations include Derek Rae, Phil Schoen, Paul Dempsey, Mark Donaldson, Glenn Davis, Janusz Michallik, Jon Champion, Daniel Mann, Stewart Robson, Steve Cangialosi, Craig Burley, Taylor Twellman, Kyle Martino, Bob Ley, Martin Tyler, Graeme Le Saux, etc.

Bigger talent acquisitions can be expected closer to World Cup 2018, but it’s important that FOX begins to bed in their soccer talent in 2014 in order to build a rapport with the audience.

 

What can we expect from FOX Sports? It’s really up to FOX. In a newspaper interview in the Tampa Bay Times, a FOX exec said:

“If you look at the money that we here at Fox and NBC and ESPN have dedicated to soccer rights, it’s a testament to our belief in the sport and our belief of soccer on television in the United States,” said David Nathanson, general manager and chief operating officer of Fox Sports 1.

Obviously FOX understands the amount of investment they’ve made in the sport in terms of rights. The production value of its programming is fine in terms of how everything looks very flashy and modern. But now it’s time for FOX to invest some serious money in talent so it can be a “testament to [their] belief in the sport and [their] belief of soccer on television in the United States.” Otherwise, those are just empty words.

About Christopher Harris

Founder and publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris is the managing editor of the site. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who has lived in Florida since 1984, has supported Swansea City since 1979. He's also an expert on soccer in South Florida, and got engaged during half-time of a MLS game. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005, which was rebranded as World Soccer Talk in 2013.
View all posts by Christopher Harris →

46 Responses to What Will FOX Sports’ World Cup Coverage Look Like?

  1. Lawrence Dockery says:

    THis is going to be so bad. I’m actually quite scared of what’s going to happen. We saw at the World Cup in 2006 how bad commentators and a lack of knowledge and respect of the game can negatively impact the popularity of the sport in this country.

    • Justin says:

      I am taking bets on the number of times JP Dellacamera says “nodded down” when someone heads the ball.

  2. Bergkamp_10 says:

    I give no chance that they will follow any of these recommendations, specially in light that they shoved Gus Johnson down our throat even after so much uproar. They might bring few commentators but that’s about it. Why are we even thinking about this right now? Why do you want to make my perfectly good day a sad one WST?

  3. Gringo says:

    FOX SPORTS IN DA HOUSE!

    There’s no shot clock in soccer, so this could go to PK’s!

  4. Gringo says:

    “Too many turnovers in the Red Zone, Gus.”

  5. Jose H. says:

    Mr. Harris, what you wrote makes a lot of sense.

    FOX, love them or hate them, does a great job with Fox News and Fox Business. They hire top notch talent, for both channels, who know what they’re talking about and do a great job presenting the news. Maybe the person running the news division needs to run the sports division.

    • supertrev says:

      I’d hardly call Don Imus and Sean Hannity ‘top notch talent’ FOX is good at hiring blonde eye candy though

    • yespage says:

      Hannity: And I’ll turn things over to this communist cup to our announcers Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly.

      Beck: Thanks Sean. Ever since getting here in Russia, it occurred to me that Football is a perfect metaphor for what is wrong with America.

      O’Reilly: Couldn’t agree more! Where can I get some felafel?

      IN GAME COVERAGE

      Beck: And now this Messy guy is going to take a kick and the Colombians are building a wall, just like the Communists did. And they do it to prevent progress. This wall they are building isn’t about defense or trying to win the game, it is about preventing progress. That they know their goalie isn’t good enough to stop the kick, so they have to build a wall of burden. In America, a real team would let him shot it straight at the goalie. A straight up shot.

      O’Reilly: Exactly. A bunch of Marxist cowards who rather rely on gimmicks than talent.

      • Flyvanescence says:

        ROFL that is the funniest thing ive read in awhile! Comment of the year!

        (From a political neutral)

    • Alex Riley says:

      Surely this comment is a joke. Reading this article reminded me about how FOX’s soccer coverage reflects their news coverage: male-oriented, macho, and dumbed down.

      • Mitchell H. says:

        I’m not going to defend FOX News and FOX Business on an ideological basis (no need turning this political), but I think the point that Jose is making is that these networks have hired talent that is seen as credible by their target market. Whether or not anyone from outside that target agrees, the ratings indicate that their viewers accept those choices.

        Therefore, the question remains: What does FOX Sports think is their target market for soccer? If they see it (as I think they will) as the casual sports fan rather than the aficionado (as most of us here are), then that spells trouble for the quality of the coverage – but it would also be consistent with FOX’s philosophy for their other networks.

        Again, whether or not FOX dumbs down news and business coverage is irrelevant to this discussion; if FOX succeeds in revenue and ratings by providing commentators that their audience approves of, they’ve accomplished what they set out to do. Our only hope is that the ratings and revenue generated by their soccer coverage will indicate to them that they’ve failed to provide that for the soccer audience.

        • yespage says:

          It comes down to what does it matter. For most people, if Fox has the rights to this or that Soccer event, most people are just going to suffer through and watch it. There is no simple alternative.

          What I don’t get is when they had the EPL, things were fine announcer wise. Why the change?

  6. Cantona says:

    Hardcore fans are not going to complain about the Woman’s World Cup and Fox knows this. They are even giving Gus the European season off, why?? To prepare?? NO.. To make sure there is as little noise possible for their celebrity goon to announce the WWC.

    Some people will complain but it will be nothing like this past Champions League and Fa Cup finals. Fox hopes during this time they will get joe regular TV watcher hooked and accepting of Gus going into 2018, then they can spin the anti Gus crowd as eurosnobs and anti American. A proven Fox strategy with their News group, I can wrap myself in the flag better than you.

    Nothing will change for 2018.. Their course is set, but the time difference will kill them with viewership, by then the hardcore fans getting up to watch the games in the early morning will be watching Telemundo.

    #nocredibility

    Cantona—

  7. CBF 1914-2014 says:

    Just going by the likely time differential between the US and the next two host nations, I think both of the upcoming World cups would have time difference issues that may not be as bad as Korea/Japan but may present a problem for drawing casual viewers stateside.

    So in short, if Gus Johnson screams in a forest and nobody hears it, does he make a noise?

    - formerly known as Proud Eurosnob.

  8. Tony says:

    Robson is a boob, other than that I agree. Don’t hire Robson. Fox has a lot of work to do in terms of not just their analysis but also their graphics, set, and overall production. We don’t need a recycled Fox NFL pregame show which is all their coverage has ever felt like.

  9. CH says:

    Gus Johnson has gotten way better in the last year. He’ll improve over the next 4 years as well. They need to give him an experienced knowledgeable partner. I know that most will still not like his style but i still feel better about him calling the US games than Ian Darke. There was something about his US commentary that rubbed me the wrong way.

    • Cantona says:

      Gus has had how long to prepare and STILL does not know the rules of the game.

      I would have to disagree, he doesn’t even care now.. He has gotten worse

      Cantona—

    • yespage says:

      Gus > Ian Darke? Seriously?

      • CH says:

        Ive always said Darke is overrated for the Algeria game.He got lucky that he got a dramatic game and because of that became the US fans favorite. Ive always thought that Derek Rae was better and im happy in this cup others have noticed that he isnt all that of a commentator.

        As for Gus I dont think that he is a better commentator than Darke tho, i just believe that it is important to have an American voice calling US games. Ian Darke sounds like a sellout calling US games to me his calls almost seem manufactured to be over enthusiastic to US scores but underwhelming to the opposition goals. I can deal with it if it was an American commentator because at least IMO it would be organic instead of artificial.

        I know its very easy to hate Gus because hes new and is still growing but the only way to improve to to keep at it. There is no doubt in my mind that he is getting better but i know it is easy to bash him as a crowd and make a punchline than to accept that he is making incremental improvements. And please lets stop disrespecting his character. He does care. That much is at least obvious. Hes not incompetent he may not be your choice but insults are a bit juvenile.

        Here’s an excellent article written by an American echoing some of my thoughts. Sorry if its been posted already.

        http://www.avclub.com/article/british-accents-dont-make-better-american-soccer-206696?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=SocialMarketing&utm_campaign=LinkPreview:1:Default

        • Faithless says:

          I’m sorry, I don’t know where your standards are, but he is VERY incompetent. He is an admitted AMATEUR, what other USA sport would this kind of gimmick be acceptable? I’m sorry but no NFL fan would be saying, “Ian Darke is trying, he will be good in 4 years–maybe”

          Is disrespect to all soccer fans that Fox thinks Johnson’s celebrity trumps substance of being a professional soccer commentator.

          • CH says:

            Well you dont speak for me so its not disrespectful to all fans. But i think its important to consider the fact that it is very common in American sports for one announcer to do various sports. Joe Buck, Brent Musburger,Jim Nantz are examples of commentators who do multiple sports. They have their best sport but do others as well. I think the (non-latino) American football fan is just enamored with British commentators. Rob Stone he was a descent announcer but was badgered by fans who didn’t like the sound. Now i challenge anybody to tell me Rob Stone doesn’t know football. Guys i guess we’ll just agree to disagree on this.

        • R.O says:

          CH wrote: ” Ive always thought that Derek Rae was better”

          Agree 100%. Derek was excellent in this WC and he was excellent doing CL when ESPN had the rights.

  10. Flyvanescence says:

    Dellacanera makes me gag. Please i would rather have Gus. At least he brings a little bit of excitement. Dellacamera is less interesting than watching paint dry.

  11. Emmett says:

    The one good thing for me about FOX getting these 2 World Cups is that the time difference will keep me from watching as much as I did the past 2 World cups. I just graduated college and will be working so I won’t have as much time. I think this could hurt FOX in viewership numbers as this key demo(that has shown to be avid fans of soccer) will be entering the work force between now and 2022. Of course, this is dependent on Qatar keeping the 2022 WC. So hopefully ESPN gets the WC back in 2026 when its in the US or Canada so they get the big audiences.

    In terms of production, GUARANTEED Fox uses their NFL on FOX song. They used it for the CL Final and now for the MLB so no doubt they use it for the WC. I hate this decision. Also, if their robot, Cleatus, makes an appearance, I might tune out other than the actual game coverage.

  12. Faithless says:

    Hopefully technology keeps evolving so we can miss this train wreck altogether. Streaming is evolving and could possibly be the main channel of broadcasting.. Who knows we may be able to choose our commentary teams and in whatever language. Even if Fox still goes forward with this Eric Shanks brainfart, I’m sure there will be some good “alternative” methods of viewing the World Cup.

    I’m the meantime let the “bubbafication” of world football continue, advertisers and the real fans WONT be watching

  13. San Fransiscan says:

    I have to say something here, but who cares about the Women’s world cup? All they have to do is focus on the 2018 World cup. If they continue on what they’re doing now, then it will be horrible. But hopefully they will learn from ESPN on how to do a good job.

  14. Milhouse says:

    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, I’ll gladly pay for the privilege of listening to the noise in the stadium.

    I’d rather listen to the crowd sing songs in a language I don’t even know than listen to some dope tell me everything I already know or can see with my own eyes.

  15. Smokey Bacon says:

    In order to clean house they need to start at the top with Shanks, the man responsible for the abomination that is their soccer coverage. Hopefully the outrage makes it up the chain to Murdoch who gave us Sky Sports that transformed soccer broadcasting (for the better) in the UK. Surely he can see that robots, NFL music, crappy pundits and the clueless screaming idiot is not the way to go. Get rid of the clearly out of touch Shanks, bring in some top brass from Sky and I predict we will all be pleasantly surprised. Otherwise it’s 2006 all over again.

  16. R.O says:

    ” Bundesliga (2015-2020)” IMO, Fox will show the majority of games on FS2, Fox Soocer ToGo and Fox Soccer plus.

    They will show some Bundesliga game but they’ll only be of Bayern Munich. That’s what I believe will happen. So basically no change from today (goltv) as very few people have FS2, FoxSoccer ToGo (online) and Fox Soccer Plus.

    I’d almost prefer if no one carried the Bundesliga in the US. It would be great if ESPN had it, but sadly didn’t seem like they wanted to bid for it.

  17. Alex Riley says:

    The tactic that FOX employs (and ESPN did in ’06) of dumbing down the broadcast is suicidal and disrespectful to the hardcore soccer fan AND the casual fan. The logic behind it is absolutely comical. They are essentially saying to the casual fan: “okay little Jimmy, here’s a voice you recognize, here’s a style of commentary and an accent you recognize, and now you can relate to him and feel comfortable. Who cares that the commentator doesn’t know anything about soccer, you will watch because he can scream louder than other commentators and is therefore more exciting. Oh and by the way, screw the fans who are real soccer fans and are knowledgeable about the game.”

    • Alex Riley says:

      On this point–have any of you met someone who has said “jee ESPN’s 2014 World Cup coverage has just been too difficult for me to understand, with all the talk about tactics and complicated soccer terminology that is so confusing! Oh and the ACCENTS. My god. I just can’t deal with foreign accents.”

      Unlikely! The fact is people aren’t stupid and prefer authenticity. And FOX gives us Gus. LOL. Good thing I can understand Spanish!

  18. Seminole Gunner says:

    There is basically no hope for FOX the first time around in 2018. Just resign yourself to it right now.

    FOX has fluffed their lines in the past with much easier events for a North American broadcaster to cover like the NHL, MLB, and American College Football. Their soccer offerings have ranged from boringly bland (the old FSC days) to insultingly bad (“Hey Michael Strahan, what’s the deal with this soccer thing anyway?”). They aren’t going to figure out the World Cup on the first try.

    And one last word on ESPN. I wish they would put whoever is in charge of their World Cup operations in charge of the whole network because it’s the best thing they have produced this decade (or at least a close call with 30 for 30). It’s created an odd situation where the people I know who don’t watch soccer have nothing but criticism for ESPN and the people I know who only watch soccer do nothing but applaud it.

  19. rkujay says:

    Fox has bigger fish to fry at this time. The buyout of Time Warner takes up all of Ruperts resources. So the 2018 World Cup slogan…Come to mother Russia, the mafia won’t hurt you, and btw we love the lgb community. And 2022…It is COOL in the middle east in the summer, and we haven’t chopped the heads off anyone in months.

    So it will be all gus all the time.

  20. Eric Thornley says:

    Fox covering the World Cup will be an utter disaster. I really hope a miracle happens where Qatar loses the 2022 World Cup, forcing a media re-bid if that is at all possible. Either that, or the midwestern beef slab executives for Fox decide to surrender their rights in favor of hiring Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, and Kim Kardashian for another season of American Idol.

    Really wish ESPN would have gone full throttle with their bid after the success of 2010. I think ESPN will be a lot more aggressive in a few years when the leagues start putting up their rights again.

  21. Alex Riley says:

    Here’s a prediction to add to Gaffer’s list: FOX will likely cut out the national anthems for commercials.

  22. Opti says:

    I am surprised no one has mentioned that FOX (or more precisely, Murdoch’s Empire) owns Sky Sports… which just happens to put on the best soccer shows on the planet (ESPN gets close but it’s not the same).

    The world cup will surely borrow from Sky Sports through one avenue or another. I cannot imagine the World Cup will be a low-brow event…

    • Christopher Harris says:

      You would think so, but they operate as two completely separate entities. As one example, FOX decided to drop Sky Sports News in favor of its own programming.

      FOX does share resources from time to time, but the FOX executives prefer to hire Americans and prefer an American voice.

  23. Mark the Dog says:

    The recent actions of Fox are just confusing. They eliminate Fox Soccer Channel, which was a great (if only) portal for daily soccer new, information and matches in the US. They keep Fox Soccer Plus but very limited in programming. Then they bid and win the future World Cups, Confederations Cup, etc… They had a perfect vehicle to promote all the new events.

    Can you tell I miss my nightly Fox Soccer Report?

    • Matt says:

      It’s fox rugby plus now. No disrespect to rugby fans, but it’s absolutely insane that Fox still asks for $15 per sub for this service unless you love rugby. Honestly, if they brought back Sky Sports News and played it 4-6 times a day, I’d think about coughing up the money. I miss it (and the old Fox Soccer Report) that badly.

  24. Ace Duncan says:

    After the outstanding job handed in by ESPN/ABC, the Fox choices seem depressing. Unless they raid the ESPN announcers and analysts, these games will be best watched in bars, with limited sound.

    • truck says:

      I know it’s 4 years down the road, but I’m having a hard time getting excited over the next WCup as (1) it’s being televised by FOX, and (2) it’s in Russia which means the event will be a pretty sterile, if the Sochi Games are anything to go by

  25. Dave Denholm says:

    Trust me, Fox will do the World Cup right.

    • Christopher Harris says:

      Dave, I respect your opinion. But what evidence do we have that FOX will do the World Cup right? Right now, there’s zero evidence and zero confidence. Instead, it seems like one mistake after another for the past two years.

      • Dave Denholm says:

        Well, difficult to fully engage you in this seeing as I do play-by-play for Fox Soccer. But, the people running the show behind the scenes absolutely have my full confidence as a soccer diehard myself.

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