In 2015, FOX Sports Executive Producer David Neal — the figurehead responsible for executing FOX’s World Cup vision — was spending lavishly on building a state-of-the-art multi-million dollar set in Red Square. At the time, Neal said, “I think for an American audience, you really have got to have something from Red Square. That says Russia.”
While the two-story studio set screamed “Russia,” it also translated into extravagant spending resulting in more than two dozen flights to Russia as well as dealing with red tape, cost overruns and numerous headaches.
One year later, FOX’s intentions to maximize their World Cup budget were still moving forward. At the time, Neal said “We will be a larger group when we go to Russia in 2018 because the magnitude of 64 games over 30 days requires a substantial number of people.”
Fast forward to April 2018, and reality has struck. FOX Sports has significantly slashed their budgets by keeping more than 65% of their commentators housed in Los Angeles to call the World Cup games off the monitor. Instead of investing in the best and brightest soccer commentators from around the world, FOX has made a huge U-turn before they’ve even televised one second of their first men’s World Cup.
After investing so much money into a studio set that was constructed two weeks ago in Stuttgart, Germany, broken into parts and then trucked to Moscow, where it will be reassembled in Red Square, FOX Sports could have invested a portion of that money to ensure that their commentators would be in Russia to call the games from the stadiums. Most sports fans would have been fine with a standard set if it meant that the commentators could be in the host country. Instead, FOX has their priorities backwards.
In hindsight, FOX Sports could have done what Telemundo did by having a set in Red Square that is housed in the same structure as other broadcasters to keep costs down.
Will FOX’s expensive World Cup set be worth it? We’ll have to wait and see what it looks like in June, but the early indications are that many sports fans are already looking at alternative options to watch this summer’s World Cup whether it’s on Telemundo (who have the Spanish rights and will have almost all of their commentators at the stadiums) or accessing foreign feeds via a virtual private network (VPN).
When we finally do see FOX’s World Cup studio in Moscow this summer, consider the cost incurred and how it was just one factor of many that resulted in FOX Sports tightening their purse strings and deciding to have most of their announcers commentate from the sterile studios in California.