It’s no secret that we’ve been critical of FOX Sports’ poor soccer coverage during the past two years where they’ve committed a catalog of mistakes and thumbed its noses at its core soccer audience. Thankfully, FOX Sports is beginning to see the light based on a few improvements they’ve made during the past week. FOX isn’t in the clear yet, but they are taking the baby steps necessary to help regain the faith of some soccer fans.
For the week of October 1-6, here are the highs and lows of the soccer viewing experience in the United States:
1. FOX Sports is getting serious about its soccer coverage
With Gus Johnson deciding to quit his role as the lead soccer commentator at FOX Sports, the network’s soccer coverage automatically improved overnight. But with Gus gone, the network quietly secured the talent last week of Ross Dyer as one of its newest commentators, where he’ll be working for FOX and ESPN this season.
For viewers who have watched beIN SPORTS, Dyer will be a familiar voice. The Everton supporter often commentated Championship Playoff Finals as well as other Anglo-centic games for the Miami-based network. But his talents at beIN SPORTS were underutilized.
After commentating several games for ESPN Radio during World Cup 2014, Dyer made his debut on FOX Sports last week as the presenter of the MultiMatch 90 programming in addition to commentating one of the Europa League games alongside Brian McBride.
While it’s still early days for Dyer at FOX, he’s already made an immediate impact given the enthusiasm and knowledge of the game, as well as his ability to know how to announce a game, which comes naturally for the much-traveled Englishman.
Another example of Dyer’s positive impact that he’s had on FOX Sports in just a week is the way that he and McBride commentated the Europa League games. The much-improved McBride had a new lease of life alongside Dyer, and sounded far more confident, comfortable and enthusiastic than he normally does.
Meanwhile, based on FOX’s UEFA Champions League coverage last week, the quartet of Rob Stone, Warren Barton, Eric Wynalda and McBride are making more of a conscious effort to improve their coverage. They’re not “phoning it in” as they’ve done in the past 1-2 years. You can tell that they’re doing more research of the different teams and players ahead of time. And while not close to perfect, they are showing a slight improvement.
Last but not least, FOX’s soccer reporter Grant Wahl finally made a meaningful contribution to the network by revealing the exclusive that Vincent Tan is one of the investors interested in acquiring Chivas USA. Wahl revealed the news as an exclusive to FOX Sports during its UEFA Champions League coverage, with the news being announced minutes later in Wahl’s column on Sports Illustrated.
The timing of the news as well as Wahl revealing the exclusive on FOX’s UEFA Champions League show was perfect and in stark contrast to the past 12 months where Wahl has been featured very prominently on the network without adding anything new or interesting than what most soccer fans already knew online.
2. Pre-match interviews with commentators
NBCSN has been conducting more pre-match interviews with announcers, live from the stadium, before Premier League matches this season. The trend is a refreshing one because it creates more of an emotional connection between the viewer and “the voice” behind the mic. In the example of Sunday’s Manchester United against Everton match, the pre-match interview with commentator Peter Drury was a joy to watch and listen to. It’s not that often that we even get to see what commentators look like on television, so more of the same please NBCSN!
1. NBCSN makes a rare but significant misstep
Most soccer fans will have missed it given the timing of the early kick-offs on Sunday, but NBCSN’s pre-match coverage of a Premier League game hit a low for the first time in its 12 month+ coverage of the league. Surprisingly, someone at NBC Sports approved the decision to use computer-generated footage from the FIFA 15 video game in NBCSN’s pre-match analysis.
NBCSN automatically cheapened its level of analysis (which has been one of its strong points and key differentiators to date) by having Robbie Mustoe and Kyle Martino talk over a computer simulation of Chelsea-Arsenal. As the goals went in during the 3-3 simulation, Mustoe and Martino discussed the threats both teams imposed. But it was a cheap trick by the broadcaster. How much did EA Sports pay NBC Sport Group to incorporate the blatant advertisement for the video game? Not only did it cheapen NBC’s coverage, but it also undermined the expertise and integrity of Mustoe and Martino.
There are plenty of more impactful ways that NBCSN could have featured FIFA 15 advertising in the pre-match coverage of its Premier League games, but the decision they made was the worst possible one. If FOX Sports had made the same call, they would have been crucified.
2. Technical issues during NBCSN’s coverage
Maybe it was issues out of their control or just gremlins in the system, but NBCSN’s almost always impeccable Premier League coverage had technical issues over the weekend. These were thankfully isolated, but issues with displaying the West Brom starting lineup before the Liverpool game, and a video issue trying to cue up a video segment on Jose Mourinho are worrying signs. Hopefully, these are just rare occurrences and similar mistakes won’t happen again.
3. Annoying soccer co-commentator on beIN SPORTS
After watching the Udinese-Cesena match on beIN SPORTS this past weekend, I hope I don’t have the misfortune of having to listen to co-commentator Matteo Bonetti again. Some voices are meant for soccer commentary. Bonetti’s high-pitched voice certainly isn’t.