As a result of the US Men’s National Team crashing out of World Cup qualifying, FOX Sports has made the decision to take drastic cuts with their World Cup commentary team. Instead of hiring the best in the business, FOX Sports will feature an almost all-American crew. And instead of having the commentators calling the vast majority of the games from the stadiums, like Telemundo is doing, FOX has decided to only send the teams of John Strong-Stu Holden and JP Dellcamera-Tony Meola to Russia. The remainder of the games will be called off monitors from the FOX Sports studios in Los Angeles.
In an interview with the Associated Press, FOX Sports Executive Producer David Neal said, “The technology allows us now to leave a lot of our operations in U.S., and there’s no reason not to do that.
”You have to adjust to your circumstances, and this is what works best for us now given the circumstances.”
It sounds like FOX Sports has thrown in the towel before a single ball has been kicked.
Instead of trying to raise the bar with its coverage and hiring the best talent available, FOX Sports will feature the following commentary teams based in their LA studio:
• Mark Followill and Warren Barton
• Jorge Perez Navarro and Mariano Trujillo
• Glenn Davis and Cobi Jones
• Derek Rae and Aly Wagner
Unfortunately even the duo featuring the skilled Derek Rae and Aly Wagner will have a tough job trying to raise the level of expertise on display from FOX. The combinations of John Strong/Stu Holden and JP Dellacamera/Tony Meola will help, but overall this is the weakest list of World Cup commentators since World Cup 1994.
It’s not an issue of accents either. The expectation among soccer fans is that the commentators for a World Cup should be the highest level no matter what. Plus soccer fans expect that the announcers will be calling the game from the stadiums. In FOX’s case, they’ve failed in both these areas.
According to a World Soccer Talk source, FOX Sports were in discussions last year to hire more talented commentators. But given FOX’s decision to slash budgets, the American broadcaster decided to hire a mostly American crew instead.
The hiring decisions that FOX Sports have made are perplexing. The much-improved Keith Costigan is a far better commentator than Mark Followill and Glenn Davis. Plus, whether you love him or hate him, FOX Sports’ most talented soccer analyst (Eric Wynalda) is absent from the list even though he’s still under contract by FOX. No analyst at FOX Sports can read a game as well as Wynalda, so his exclusion doesn’t make sense unless the broadcaster is trying to play political favorites with MLS and the US Soccer Federation.
Even FOX Sports co-commentator Wagner admits that calling games off a monitor is a challenge. In the interview with AP, she says, “It’s not an advantage at all. You’re limited in what you get to see. I’m hoping that we’ll have maybe an extra cam, like a tactical-view cam. That will help. But sometimes you’re just limited to what the viewers at home see. It just gives you a different perspective when you are able to be at the game.”
Calling games off a TV screen in a Los Angeles studio does a disservice to the World Cup viewing experience. In a recent email from one of the top commentators in the world, he told World Soccer Talk “There is no way that a couple of guys in a remote TV booth can possibly react to a moment in the same way as someone privileged to be watching it at first-hand. You have to be there to know how it feels and genuinely to articulate it.”
Compared to the last rights-holder, ESPN had four crews in South Africa in 2010 and called seven matches from the International Broadcast Center in Johannesburg, then used five pairings four years ago in Brazil and had 13 games broadcast from the IBC in Rio de Janeiro.
For FOX Sports, almost all of the games will be announced from their LA studio except for the opening game between Russia-Saudi Arabia (Dellacamera/Meola), select games by Strong/Holden and the final eight games of the competition.