On one of the biggest sports days of the year, the 2015 Women’s World Cup got underway Saturday from Canada and marked the beginning of FOX Sports’ World Cup era.
In the buildup to the tournament, all the signs had been positive from FOX – from the studio setup in Vancouver, to the number of matches scheduled for the flagship station, to the talent assembled – and day one lived up to the hype.
That studio in Vancouver? It’s phenomenal – maybe even good enough to rival ESPN’s setup on the Copacabana in Brazil, and certainly better than anything ESPN did for the 2011 women’s tournament in Germany.
Interestingly, with their A roster of talent back in Los Angeles hosting FOX’s coverage of the Champions League Final, the network went with five women to anchor their studio coverage.
It was a good look. Former England captain Kelly Smith was particularly impressive, and Kate Abdo did well in her presenting duties as well.
But where the presentation really shined was after the opening match began. The first-choice commentary team of JP Dellacamera, Cat Whitehill, and Tony DiCicco was terrific.
DiCicco – a big character in the women’s game since coaching the US to the 1999 World Cup championship on home soil – was particularly buoyant and entertaining. Whitehill has some growth to do as she steps into a commentary role for the first time, but she certainly has potential.
The old veteran Dellacamera – whose most famous moment probably came calling the final shootout between the US and China at that ’99 World Cup – was terrific as well. Few men play as well off of a great atmosphere as Dellacamera, and it’s a joy to hear him calling major matches on national television again. It’s been a while.
Of course a year ago, Gus Johnson was slated to front the Women’s World Cup, and although we’ll never really what would have become of the Gus experiment on soccer had he had a few more years and a lot less pressure to work his way into the sport, it’s obvious that we’re in better hands with Dellacamera.
The trio captured the late penalty to Canada with panache. DiCicco, who certainly has a lot of Shep Messing in his commentary, broke down the situation well, and his genuine enthusiasm for the game is infectious. Dellacamera’s call provided the necessary gravitas.
There also has to be a special word for FOX’s graphics, in combination with FIFA, which were superb.
The network’s new theme music for international matches is a slam-dunk too, and has the chance to reach iconic status over the next decade.
Although it’s not the most important element, that music is important, and synonymous with a network’s coverage – and it’s only too telling that for previous soccer events, FOX had been using its NFL music as a theme.
All the praise isn’t to say everything was perfect. The actual analysis of the teams and players, especially from the studio crew, was extremely light. There was practically no insight into the Chinese team, and very little about Canada outside of their talisman Christine Sinclair.
It also remains to be seen whether FOX can pull off the gravitas of ESPN’s coverage as we proceed later into the tournament and hit more serious stories, and how the announcers beneath Dellacamera, John Strong, and Glenn Davis perform.
FOX had to be good Saturday. The atmosphere, and broadcast, will suffer when it’s not Canada playing.
All in all, though, it was a good day. FOX has devoted enough resources, glitz, and glamour to this event to make it feel truly major league, and that’s a win for soccer fans everywhere this summer.
The stakes are obviously high. FOX has to make a good first impression here, not because they’ll make money on the Women’s World Cup or grow the women’s game considerably through their coverage – they won’t – but because they need to figure out how to cover a major soccer tournament to the satisfaction of soccer fans before 2018 in Russia.
And, believe it or not, FOX is off to a nice start.