FOX had a mixed weekend covering the FA Cup, the first full-fledged weekend of soccer on the network’s channels since the shutdown of FOX Soccer in September.
The wall-to-wall FA Cup coverage, that included FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports 2 and FOX over-the-air, included extensive highlights and studio shows. The FA Cup, often a throwaway in the years the network owned Premier League rights, was promoted throughout the week. As always, Rob Stone presented well, moderating studio discussions and giving timely updates. Stone’s presence in the studio chair has grown from being a young, somewhat offbeat host on ESPN’s Major League Soccer programming in the late 90s to a polished professional whose love for the game always shines through.
But as is always the case with FOX, there were far more negatives than positives. As mentioned earlier, Stone is a good host, but Warren Barton continues to give simplistic analysis that at times boggles the mind. Eric Wynalda continues to be a mixed bag, combining strong points with silly reactionary ones. Brian McBride is less assertive than he needs to be and while his analysis has grown stronger, he remains more awkward on camera and less assured in his demeanor than his colleagues.
But talent is not FOX’s biggest problem. It’s their programming format and production value. One of the most confusing elements is the FOX Soccer branding on some graphics while the studio and other on air graphics read FOX Sports 1. It would be more understandable if the graphics were similar in style, but they are not. The mishmash of graphics resembled the types of productions ABC, CBS or NBC would have in the late 1980s or early 1990s when switching between graphics packages. But in those days, graphics were less subtle and these things were less noticeable.
The problem is that FOX has made loud graphics a trademark of its sports coverage and the lack consistency was on full display throughout all the studio programs. Also the size of these on-air graphics was highly distracting from attempting to watch highlights or focus in on the studio team.
The types of tactical discussions Premier League fans in the United States have become accustomed to since NBC gained the rights to the league were completely absent from both days coverage. While many are of the opinion that FOX’s studio talent is not in the same league as NBC, they really are not given the chance to show their knowledge or understanding of the game in the format the network chooses for highlights and analysis.