FOX’s coverage of the Women’s World Cup has been a mixture of positives and negatives. On the positive, the match commentators have generally been good, especially the standout team of Justin Kutcher and Aly Wagner. Jenn Hildreth, who is a familiar face to college sports fans in the south as well as to those who watch the Atlanta Braves, has been outstanding in play-by-play duties. John Strong has emerged as arguably the single best American-born soccer commentator in recent years and has had a solid tournament as expected.
But the match commentators aside, FOX’s overall coverage of the World Cup has been subpar.
Let’s start in the studio with the hosting duties of Rob Stone. Many of us who have watched soccer in this country for the last two decades love Rob Stone – I love Rob Stone. But being the primary host for a major international competition isn’t his thing. I could see him very easily slotting into the more relaxed late night highlight slot that Kate Abdo has or doing some offbeat commentary.
FOX’s studio analysis has been weak and forced with the exception of the contributions from the outstanding Kelly Smith. Heather Mitts adds very little in the way of analysis and Alexi Lalas shines when he has someone to be argumentative with. However, this hasn’t happened during the Women’s World Cup. Though Lalas’ points are generally well-founded, his value is negated without a sidekick to banter with. Stone’s strength isn’t pushing buttons either, so Lalas is hardly ever being pressed into saying the types of zany and colorful things he was associated with at ESPN.
FOX’s late night studio show is a mess. The analysis is generally so poor on the program that I get my end-of-the-day Women’s World Cup analysis fix from rival ESPN who does not have tournament rights. Julie Foudy continues to be a fixture on ESPN’s soccer coverage and the ESPN FC shows during the Women’s World Cup hosted by Dan Thomas with Foudy and one or two male analysts have been better than anything FOX produces.
Unfortunately FOX also has been cutting out of coverage of soccer immediately after the end of late games, going to coverage of other sports and studio programs for other sports. Without a channel like ESPNews to handle postgame analysis, any post-match talk has to wait until the late-night FOX program hosted by Kate Abdo. At that point, it is just as easy to watch the ESPN FC program, which is usually on around the same time, if not earlier, and which features as noted above better analysis.
While many were fearful of how poorly FOX might cover this tournament, the prognostications of doom have been off the mark. However, FOX’s coverage is still far from ideal, and below the standard for coverage of this sport that both ESPN and NBC have established. Remedies for future tournaments should include bringing in an experienced and seasoned studio host of some stature, perhaps a Bob Ley or Curt Menefee, as well finding an intelligent sidekick that can banter with Alexi Lalas. Scheduling post-match programs on some FOX owned network after the conclusion of the final games of the night is also a must.
FOX has done better than expected in some respects. But that is what happens when expectations from many were so low, merely not having a major on-air catastrophe would suffice as satisfactory. But let us hope before FOX covers the 2018 Men’s World Cup and the 2019 Women’s World Cup that substantial upgrades are made.
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