FOX Sports’ list of excuses defending why they’ve chosen to have 66% of their commentators calling games from a studio in Los Angeles during this summer’s World Cup continues to grow.
In an interview with The Athletic, FOX Sports Executive Producer David Neal claims that calling soccer games off a TV monitor instead of being at the stadium is “standard in the sport.”
“Over half of the matches in America on a global basis in any given year are called off-tube (from monitors not at the stadium),” said Neal. “There are rights-holders from Europe who are not sending any talent to Russia. To me, it is a non-story. In soccer, it is standard procedure to do matches off-tube.”
Just because FOX Sports doesn’t have their commentators at most games in Europe doesn’t make it the de facto standard. The fact is that soccer fans in the United States have been accustomed to having commentators in the stadiums when calling games. All of the Premier League games feature commentators in the stadiums (If it wasn’t a big deal, NBC Sports wouldn’t send so many of their announcers to call games from England.). When ESPN televised the 2014 FIFA World Cup, every single game featured commentators in Brazil (only 13 out of the 64 games had announcers not in the stadium, but they were in Rio instead). During the 2010 FIFA World Cup, ESPN had four crews in South Africa in 2010 and called seven matches from the International Broadcast Center in Johannesburg.
In comparison, FOX Sports will have two commentators in Russia (John Strong and JP Dellacamera), who will be teamed up with co-commentators Stu Holden and Tony Meola. All of the other commentators will be holed up in a studio in Los Angeles calling the games off a large TV monitor.
In Europe, every single one of the commentators and co-commentators doing the world-feed will be calling the games from the stadiums throughout Russia. Likewise, all of the commentary teams from the BBC and ITV will also be in Russia.
For Neal and FOX Sports to try to trick soccer fans into believing that most commentators are not in the stadium is beyond the pale. At the same time, to brush off the topic as a “non story” shows how completely out of touch the broadcaster is with reality.
Yes, many of the matches from Europe such as LaLiga, Serie A and the Championship feature commentators that are in a studio calling the games off the monitor, but this is the World Cup we’re talking about. If FOX Sports is unwilling or unable to spend the money to have its announcers in Russia for the tournament, FOX Sports has bigger issues to worry about.
It’s one thing for FOX not to send commentators to Russia, but the bigger issue is that it doesn’t create an authentic experience for the TV viewer.
In a recent discussion with one of the world’s best and most experienced soccer commentators, he explained to World Soccer Talk that “(you make) an excellent point about the merits of being in the stadium. 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 first-hand. You had to be there to know how it felt…and genuinely to articulate it.”
Aside from the worries about FOX’s commentator decisions, Neal also expressed a worrying remark about putting a higher priority on entertainment than facts when it comes to analysis from the FOX Sports World Cup studio crew.
“When you start with a blank sheet of paper and start looking to fill in broadcast teams, I wanted excellent analysts who are contemporary and accomplished in the game, who are great communicators but also analysts willing to be candid and to put informed and entertaining opinions out there,” said Neal. “I want them to first guess and not worry about always being right.”
The coverage of the World Cup on FOX Sports begins June 14.