FOX Sports has been using the International Champions Cup as a testing ground for a whole host of changes in its soccer coverage during the past week. Most of them, so far, have been poor. But tonight’s coverage of the Liverpool-Manchester City game featured several cheap tricks that — yet again — give soccer viewers more evidence that FOX Sports (1) doesn’t know how to cover the sport properly and (2) doesn’t care what the viewer wants.
Here are the cheap tricks FOX Sports used in the Liverpool-Manchester City game televised on FOX Sports 1:
1. In-game advertising
It’s bad enough that FOX decides to run its abnormally large and obnoxious ticker throughout games, but now FOX Sports has begun including in-game advertising (see above photo). During the game, FOX shrunk the game picture, and then ran a large advertisement on the right side and underneath the game picture. This happened several times during the Liverpool-Manchester City game, shown live from Yankee Stadium.
Is this what we can expect to see from FOX Sports during its future soccer coverage? If so, it’s a dumb move by the network. It’s distracting, and takes the viewer away from the game.
2. In-game interviews
Midway through the second half of the Liverpool-Manchester City match, with the action unfolding on the field, commentators John Strong and Warren Barton interrupted the broadcast to interview New York City FC manager Jason Kreis. So what did Kreis have to do with the International Champions Cup, Liverpool or Manchester City? Absolutely nothing. Instead Strong and Barton pinged Kreis with questions about New York City FC, how great the pitch looked and what the atmosphere was like.
I completely understand that Kreis will be the coach of the NYCFC team that begins play next year in Yankee Stadium, and that Manchester City is a part owner in the club, but the in-game interview with Kreis was distracting and — again — took the viewer away from the game.
3. Google Glasses
During a very brief stoppage in the game to allow Manchester City to field two substitutes, the camera zoomed in on FOX Sports reporter Keith Costigan. While I’m not a fan of having a sideline reporter since the position rarely adds any valuable insight, it didn’t appear too unusual to go Costigan for a quick update from the touchline. However, FOX decided to have him wear a pair of Google Glasses, and then showed grainy footage of what Costigan was seeing — which was the backside of the two Manchester City subs.
The move added zero value, and came off as a cheap trick that was completely unnecessary.
Costigan mentioned that City is planning on using Google Glasses in upcoming games, but while that may be true, the decision to show him wearing the glasses and to show footage of what he saw was another example of amateur hour at its finest.
4. Guilt by association
John Strong is one of the rising stars as a US soccer commentator. However, by associating himself with FOX Sports, he doesn’t sound as polished as he does when he’s on NBC Sports. Strong made an embarrassing flub near the end of the game where his goal call for the Raheem Sterling goal had him saying “Daniel Sterling,” but he quickly corrected himself, and moved on. Mistakes happen. But when he has to be the one to interview soccer coaches in the middle of a game, it cheapens his reputation and image.
On a positive note, FOX’s decision to put Janusz Michallik in the studio is one of the smartest moves FOX Sports has made in several months. He’s knowledgable. He can share observations that help enrich the broadcast instead of saying nothing (like some of his FOX colleageus). Plus his presence keeps Eric Wynalda on his toes.
Meanwhile, the addition of Heather Mitts as a sideline reporter was a good move. Unfortunately, FOX reduced her role in the Manchester City-AC Milan to one of a weather reporter instead of having her concentrate on the game.
FOX Sports is a difficult network to predict because they’re too inconsistent and unpredictable in their coverage of soccer. You never know what surprise they’re going to pull out of their bag of tricks, and there’s little confidence that they’ll do it right. Hopefully, tonight’s coverage was an exception to the rule and that they’ll learn from their mistakes. But for a network that has no clear vision or identity regarding its soccer coverage, it just keeps on getting worse and worse. One step forward, four steps back.
Update: Several World Soccer Talk readers also noted that during the live coverage of Real Madrid against AS Roma last night on FOX Sports 2, FOX decided to break away for a commercial during the game itself. If true, this is another giant step backwards in the quality of soccer coverage on US television. This is the same network that has MLS and World Cup rights for 2015-2022, Bundesliga for 2015-2020 and UEFA Champions League through 2015.