Sometimes TV ratings can be a false positive. The viewing audience for USA vs. Ecuador on FOX Sports was 1.878 million, the second most-watched men’s soccer game on FS1. Based on that metric, you would assume that FOX Sports did a fantastic job of covering the Copa America Centenario quarter-final. Being the only English-language provider of the games has its advantages, but for anyone who watched the game, what you saw was a potpourri of hype, a revelation in Landon Donovan and more sophomoric comedy from Fernando Fiore. But most disappointing of all was the cavalcade of mistakes made by the production crew that resulted in poor camera work, poorly timed replays and mass confusion on the red card incidents that left both the announcers and TV viewers at home perplexed about what was happening in the game.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the blame for the amateurish TV production work. Host Broadcast Services (HBS) plays a significant role but ultimately it’s CONCACAF’s responsibility to ensure that the quality standards are met. At the same time, FOX Sports is at the mercy of CONCACAF’s decisions. But whoever was producing the game from Seattle on Thursday night should have the riot act read to him or her. The broadcast, at times, resembled something that you’d expect from a high school football game.
The advancement of the United States to the quarterfinals gave FOX Sports the impetus to take its FS1 studio on the road and increase the length of the pregame show from an hour to 90 minutes. The network also brought a number of its other personalities to Seattle for a complete wraparound coverage of the United States vs. Ecuador game.
Having switched my Copa America viewership to Univision during the Group Stage after becoming disillusioned by the inconsistent coverage, the changes FOX Sports made for the USA quarter-final encouraged viewers like myself to give the network’s coverage a second look. What we found was a mixed bag and a network still unwilling to follow even the most minimal portion of the major tournament template offered by ESPN during its simultaneous coverage of the UEFA Euro 2016 competition.
Here are the highs and lows from the coverage:
Donovan’s role as a co-commentator appeared like it might be the all-time US Men’s National Team (USMNT) goal scorer’s rough baptism by fire. Instead what Donovan provided was real insight into both teams and a degree of tactical and psychological analysis co-commentators on FOX Sports, save Eric Wynalda, don’t often bring. Donovan is a different type of athlete whose world doesn’t revolve around the sport he formerly played, so perhaps it’s too much to hope that he would make this gig a regular thing. But from my vantage point, he’s soared way ahead of Brad Friedel, Stuart Holden and Alexi Lalas in the pecking order of former USMNT players employed by FOX Sports that can provide in-game match analysis. Wynalda would still be at the top of that list but given his frequent criticisms of the US Soccer system and MLS, we must assume he will continue to be kept off most broadcasts (the recent friendly with Puerto Rico a very notable exception).