FOX’s Copa America TV coverage makes promising start

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In its coverage of world soccer, FOX Sports is making progress in every major tournament it televises. Its coverage of the Women’s World Cup was a high watermark for FOX, far exceeding its normal service. Now, with its opening weekend coverage of Copa America Centenario, FOX Sports has started the tournament brightly. Having said that, there are still too many distractions that are dragging the broadcasts down and preventing them from being stellar.

First, let’s start with the positives.

The chemistry between the main studio talent of Rob Stone, Herculez Gomez, Fernando Fiore and Alexi Lalas is much better than what we’re accustomed to seeing on FOX’s UEFA Champions League coverage. Rob Stone is less rah-rah USA, which is a positive step given his role in trying to be a fair and impartial host. Gomez has been a welcome addition with his clear-cut, no nonsense analysis. Lalas has been Lalas, no surprises there. But it’s been Fernando Fiore who has been the star of the show, injecting a ton of energy into a studio team that has been too stale and stiff in the past. It’s hard not to like Fiore and his passion for the sport. He’s certainly a character.

Other positives include the overall production value of the coverage. Certainly the pre-recorded segments have been a hit such as the segment on Andres Escobar from the opening night that was narrated by Grant Wahl and that featured some impressive cinematography. That was followed by a poignant discussion between Fiore, Stone and Lalas about their memories from that 1994 World Cup game. The discussion was one of the finest moments I’ve seen on FOX Sports’ soccer coverage in over a year.

Also impressive are the overhead shots of the stadiums as well as the nearby scenery. The visuals of the jets heading toward Levi’s Stadium to do a flyover gave me goosebumps. Plus, the panoramic views of the mountains near Santa Clara were stunning.

Not surprisingly, the fingerprints of executive producer (and former NBC Sports employee) David Neal were all over FOX’s coverage from the opening weekend, and it was telling. FOX’s coverage is now night and day better than what FOX Sports was doing for soccer before they hired him.

Last but not least, a big positive from FOX Sports thus far has been the fact that they’ve toned down the cheerleading. In previous tournaments, including the Gold Cup, Women’s World Cup and CONCACAF Cup, the overly assertive pro-USA stance was nauseating at times. Sure, it’s perfectly fine to support your country, but it impacted FOX in a negative way where most of the analysis and coverage was slanted towards the USA to the detriment of the opposition. Thankfully, so far this tournament, FOX Sports has been more balanced. I was impressed by how much focus they gave to Colombia in the opening pre-game coverage. Let’s hope that their more worldly view continues for the remainder of the tournament.

Positives aside, it’s time to focus on the negatives.

Unfortunately, despite all of the hard work, FOX Sports is getting in the way of the broadcasts. Instead of letting viewers enjoy the experience of watching the game that’s unfolding on our screens in front of us, FOX Sports is creating too many distractions.

Here are some of the most noticeable distractions.

Distraction number one

The commentator’s phrase that should send shudders down the spines of viewers is “Let’s bring in Dr. Joe…” Those words can only mean that the former FIFA Match Commissioner Joe Machnik is about to share some obvious remark that is a waste of the viewer’s time as well as interrupting the flow of the broadcast.

Perhaps the commentators keep on calling on Dr. Joe to share his insight on refereeing decisions because someone somewhere has to justify his role and/or paycheck. Otherwise, his role makes no sense. By pulling him into the live match broadcast several times a half, it dumbs down the overall coverage particularly when he’s asked to explain a simple call. Or even when it’s a complicated or controversial call, he’s adding no insight to build on what the commentators have already said on air.

Vice-versa, it sometimes felt during the opening weekend that the over reliance on Dr. Joe was, at times, used to create something out of nothing. For example, the clear handball by DeAndre Yedlin in the game by Colombia was discussed over and over and over again to the point where even Alexi Lalas appeared to show his frustration on TV about the topic, asking the studio talent to move on.

Similarly, in the pre-match show before the USA-Colombia game, Dr. Joe blew David Ospina’s comments about refereeing way out of proportion inferring that Ospina was trying to put pressure on the match official.

Without Dr. Joe on the show, neither Ospina’s comment nor the incessant hammering on about Yedlin’s handball would have probably happened. With him, he drags the show down.

Can you think of one instance where Dr. Joe provided any sort of clarity when his insight helped to elevate the coverage? Neither can I.

Distraction number two

Annoying sponsored ads.

Ever since FOX Sports has been televising MLS since last year, their coverage of games have included the sponsored ads that shrink the size of the live camera feed and then play the ad for a few seconds. These type of ads are wrong on so many levels. They’re disruptive, yes, but they make me never want to buy a product from that advertiser. Most importantly, they disrupt the flow of the game.

copa-america-fox-advert

As you can see by the screen above, the annoying ads sometimes appear when there’s a goalscoring opportunity. Every time one of these ads appear, it makes me want to grab the remote control and watch the same game on Univision instead.

There are zero positives from these ads. The only plus for FOX Sports is they generate advertising revenue, but when the sponsors realize that these type of ads are doing more harm than good, maybe they’ll change their tune.

Distraction number three

FOX Sports recently redesigned their starting lineup graphics to make them more visually appealing, but in this case, more is less. As you can see from the screenshot below, the most important information on the screen is practically unreadable. Try telling me who the goalkeeper and defenders are.

At the same time, there’s so much wasted space. By having the massive graphic at the top as well as the unnecessary design on the side, it squishes the field width and makes it very difficult to know who the starting lineup is.

In FOX’s graphic below, the list of substitutes is far easier to read than the the starting goalkeeper, defenders and midfielders.

uruguay-starting-lineup-fox

There are other distractions throughout FOX Sports’ coverage that seem puzzling. In studio, the interesting facts graphic about each participating country is a waste. Do viewers really care or need to know, as the graphic for USA proclaimed on-screen, that Maine grows 98% of nation’s blueberries or that the Hollywood Bowl is the largest amphitheater in the world. What does that have to do with soccer?

Another unfortunate distraction was FOX’s inability to sync up the audio and visuals from the first half of the USA-Colombia game. The glaring mistake from that occurred in the lead-up to Colombia’s goal from the corner when commentator John Strong called Colombia’s goal before Cristian Zapata had even struck the ball. It’s those type of sloppy mistakes that can detract from the whole enjoyment of watching a game.

Speaking of commentators, they’ve been positive. JP Dellacamera and Stu Holden continue to form a great partnership together behind the mic. John Strong is solid. And the other commentators have done their job well without any glaring mistakes.

Overall, while the Copa America Centenario tournament has not lived up to its potential yet except for the thrilling Mexico-Uruguay game, FOX’s broadcasts have been above average based on its prior track record. There’s still a long way to go in this tournament, but the initial signs from FOX Sports have been positive.

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