In what began as a promising start for FOX Sports during the opening weekend of their TV coverage of Copa America Centenario, the leading soccer rights holder in the United States returned to some of its old ways Tuesday night during its broadcast of the USA vs. Argentina semi-final.
Let me start by saying that watching FOX Sports’ coverage of soccer continues to be a frustrating experience. After years of watching the Beautiful Game on the network, the majority of soccer fans in the US have been “trained” to ignore FOX’s pre-match, half-time and post-match coverage and to tune in to just the game itself. If you’re in this category, congratulations, you made a wise choice. I thought JP Dellacamera and Landon Donovan, especially, did a superb job of covering the game (which has been one of FOX Sports’ greatest weaknesses in the past that they’ve finally fixed). But for the rest of us who sat through the pre-game show, we’re still probably feeling the after effects of sitting through two hours (yes, TWO hours) of coverage that resembled a hyped-up pep rally full of dumbed-down soccer analysis.
On Tuesday night, FOX Sports made the decision to dumb down its coverage of USA vs Argentina in order to target the casual sports fan who tuned in to watch the USMNT for the first time since the team lost to Belgium at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. By doing so, it lost its core audience and tried to appeal to the casual fan who probably won’t tune in again until World Cup 2018.
Examples of the condescending, dumbed-down coverage include a video segment on Lionel Messi narrated by Fernando Fiore that explained who Messi was and how he joined Barcelona and became arguably the best footballer in the world. Then there was Rob Stone explaining to viewers why Tim Howard, after such a great 2014 World Cup, wasn’t going to be in goal for the USA.
Let’s not forget the segment narrated by Colin Cowherd that looked like a PowerPoint presentation assembled by a middle-schooler (see screengrab below).
The segment, which Stone guaranteed we would enjoy, looked like something that had been cobbled together at the last minute. The topic was how the US soccer culture has grown so much. Yet the ploy felt like a deliberate attempt to promote Cowherd’s show at the same time as trying to tell the casual sports fan that soccer is actually bigger than most people think.
In addition to the dumbed down soccer analysis, FOX Sports went over the top with their rah-rah analysis of the USA in the pre-game show. Even though the majority of viewers, myself included, wanted the USA to win, the pre-match coverage was so focused on the United States and one player in particular from Argentina (Messi) that during the entire 2-hour pre-match broadcast, the FOX Sports analysts spent more time talking about Messi’s beard than they did about any other player on the Argentina team.