If anyone has been tough on FOX’s soccer coverage, it’s been us. From so many highs and lows of recent years (with the lows being oh so low), we’re glad to say that based on FOX Sports’ opening weekend coverage of the Women’s World Cup, the network’s soccer coverage is showing measurable signs of progress. But while the visuals and studio are amazing, the overall package from the opening weekend has been a mixed bag.
First, the positives. There’s no doubt that FOX’s Women’s World Cup coverage looks stunning. From the incredible backdrop in Vancouver to the gorgeous state-of-the-art set, the production looks amazing. The amount of detail that has gone into the appearance of not only the set but the accompanying graphics and music are world-class. The 3D virtual graphics, in particular, are out of this world. The way the virtual graphics sit on the artificial pitch and are sometimes complemented by the huge TV monitor on the set are some of the most beautiful images you’re likely to see in soccer broadcasting.
Combining with the visual effects are music and sounds that are understated but a perfect accompaniment for the graphics and the majesty of the tournament. This is a huge step for FOX. In the past, the network has fused all sorts of distracting and obnoxious music for intros and goal highlights such as speed metal, music used for NFL intros and the like. Thankfully, the Women’s World Cup is an aural breath of fresh air.
Despite all of the positives from the appearance of the broadcast, looks can be deceiving.
There’s no doubt that FOX Sports has assembled a huge crew of talent for the month long broadcast. But it’s the talent thus far that has been the weakest component of the Women’s World Cup coverage. We’re only in the third day of the 30 day tournament, but already the talent has been tiresome. There’s far too much repetition of similar topics and answers. For example, there’s only so much we can take of answers to variations of the “How did it feel to be playing in a Women’s World Cup game?” question.
In the broadcasts thus far, the two stand-out stars are Kate Abdo, the incredibly gifted presenter, and Monica Gonzalez, the analyst who is crystal clear and straight to the point in her analysis. Both Abdo and Gonzalez are borrowed from Sky Sports and ESPN respectively.
While the talent hasn’t been poor by any means and is far better than it usually is, the analysis and insight has been lacking, and has failed to match the world-class visuals that are the centerpiece of the coverage thus far. The analysts on-screen have done their homework, but they’re not providing two things that ESPN’s previous coverage of World Cup tournaments did:
1) Insight. Most of the analysts are saying things that the viewers are already seeing. So while the set and talent’s wardrobe look perfect, what’s coming out of the mouths of the analysts is largely elementary.
2) Independent thinking. By listening to the pundits, too few of them are willing to speak their minds and think independently. As a result, the vast majority of the pundits are “singing from the same hymn sheet,” which makes the broadcast, at times, boring and predictable.
A perfect example of the lack of independent thinkers emanates from the revelations from the Hope Solo investigation that Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch summed up perfectly (which I highly recommend you read). At the conclusion of his article, he stated “I like what Fox has done with its game coverage but my first experience with its studio group was severely disappointing. If I see this particular group on air again before or after games, I’m likely heading elsewhere for analysis.”
Either all of the FOX talent are drinking the same Kool Aid, or the executives at FOX didn’t hire people who are savvy enough to see how the latest revelations need to be discussed since they are — whether they like it or not — part of the Women’s World Cup.
There’s no doubt that FOX Sports has begun to make a U-turn on its soccer coverage and is taking huge steps in the right direction. They’ve invested heavily in the broadcast of this tournament and have made several key hires behind-the-scenes.
While they’ve made progress, FOX needs to continue to focus to improve its talent and/or to make better hiring decisions. It’s important, however, to remember that FOX is on the right track.
Aside from the analysts, FOX’s commentators and co-commentators have been — for the most part — on target. The only exception is sideline reporter Julie Stewart-Binks. During the Germany-Ivory Coast game, the announcers went to her to ask her whether Ivory Coast would be getting any subs ready. She said that after Germany scored the fifth goal, the coach’s head dropped. However, the score at that time of the game was only 4-0 to Germany, not 5-0. You would think that the sideline reporter would be keeping track of the scoreline, but it’s a simple mistake on opening weekend.
Meanwhile, when you need a sideline reporter to share some insight into what’s going on off-camera, they’re not there. For example, in the 16th minute of the Germany-Ivory Coast game, Germany made a substitution. The viewer at home saw the change but was left to wonder why it was made and why the announcers didn’t say anything about it. A minute later, the commentator mentioned the reason. But it was far too late and it makes you wonder why Stewart-Binks didn’t provide any input or wasn’t called on to explain the change.
Talent aside, FOX is making progress overall and is heading in the right direction. It’s plain to see that FOX Sports has borrowed heavily from ESPN’s coverage of the 2014 World Cup and has built a better set and foundation to host its programming from of what will hopefully be a wonderful tournament.
But it still feels like FOX is learning as they go, and therefore the remainder of this tournament and World Cup 2018 will be better for it. The fear, however, is that some people will lose patience and will only tune in for the match broadcasts instead of the pre-match, half-time and post-match (and shoulder) programming.
This is as positive as I’ve been about FOX’s soccer coverage in years, and I hope they continue to improve. I’ll be watching the broadcasts with renewed interest and the hope that tweaks can be made as the tournament unfolds.
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