With the 2014 edition of the Guinness International Champions Cup now completed, it’s time to look at what FOX Sports’ coverage was like during the tournament.
Certainly, there were some good points but not surprisingly, given FOX’s track record of late, there were plenty of low points. As ridiculous as it sounds, FOX Sports’s soccer coverage even managed to be worse than usual at times during the tournament. Overall, there’s no doubt that it wasn’t good enough to compete with the way that both ESPN and NBC has raised the bar for soccer coverage on television in the United States.
Out of the entire International Champions Cup, FOX’s best production was for the Manchester United versus Real Madrid game at Michigan Stadium. One of the main reasons why it was improved compared to the other games was because FOX decided to put Rob Stone, Warren Barton and Eric Wynalda on an outside set instead of having the trio commentate a game, like they did for the LA Galaxy vs Manchester United match.
The trio are better suited to working in a studio — whether it’s inside or out.
The standout performer at FOX during the tournament was Brian McBride as a color commentator. The former USMNT World Cup star is improving his announcing, and is by far a better co-commentator than studio pundit. McBride is the polar opposite of Wynalda. The former Everton, Fulham and Columbus Crew forward is calm, cool, and collected. He doesn’t speak in absolutes or shout like Wynalda. McBride offers real insight and analysis and seems to work well with no matter what commentator he is paired with. Going forward, FOX should consider pairing McBride with Gus Johnson.
Aside from the positives, one of the problems that FOX has it that it tries to treat its soccer broadcasts like any other sporting event. FOX uses the same theme intro for all of its sports, while NBC and ESPN both have a different musical theme for every sport, and they all stand out. Treat a soccer broadcast like a soccer broadcast and leave the NFL robot for NFL games.
Another issue with FOX Sports’ soccer coverage is the fact that they didn’t use Gus Johnson. Seeing as how FOX has committed themselves to Johnson as the long term voice of soccer on their network, it would have made sense for him to commentate some of these incredibly high profile games. But maybe he thought he was too good for the tournament? Instead, FOX will continue to sprinkle him into six or seven soccer games a year.
Johnson is by no means a world-class soccer commentator, contrary to what Warren Barton may think. He needs to get more reps so that FOX could at least say that they are trying to put an improved product out there. Going forward, FOX should consider pairing Johnson with McBride to see what the chemistry is like. This would build steam heading into the tournaments in the next 12 months, beginning with the Women’s World Cup next summer. Plus, McBride’s reserved style would perfectly balance with Johnson’s shouting.
After World Cup 2014 ended, the TV coverage of the International Champions Cup was FOX’s first big test to see if they are serious about covering soccer in an intelligent way. While they weren’t as bad as usual, they are nowhere near NBC’s quality and they are light years away from the gold standard of ESPN’s World Cup coverage. Borrowing what ESPN and NBC has perfected would improve the quality of FOX’s product and give it some legitimacy. Otherwise, viewers and sponsors will continue to think FOX Sports’ soccer coverage is, for the most part, amateur hour.