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FOX’s inconsistent coverage of Copa America Centenario

fox-usa-argentina-studio

In what began as a promising start for FOX Sports during the opening weekend of their TV coverage of Copa America Centenario, the leading soccer rights holder in the United States returned to some of its old ways Tuesday night during its broadcast of the USA vs. Argentina semi-final.

Let me start by saying that watching FOX Sports’ coverage of soccer continues to be a frustrating experience. After years of watching the Beautiful Game on the network, the majority of soccer fans in the US have been “trained” to ignore FOX’s pre-match, half-time and post-match coverage and to tune in to just the game itself. If you’re in this category, congratulations, you made a wise choice. I thought JP Dellacamera and Landon Donovan, especially, did a superb job of covering the game (which has been one of FOX Sports’ greatest weaknesses in the past that they’ve finally fixed). But for the rest of us who sat through the pre-game show, we’re still probably feeling the after effects of sitting through two hours (yes, TWO hours) of coverage that resembled a hyped-up pep rally full of dumbed-down soccer analysis.

On Tuesday night, FOX Sports made the decision to dumb down its coverage of USA vs Argentina in order to target the casual sports fan who tuned in to watch the USMNT for the first time since the team lost to Belgium at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. By doing so, it lost its core audience and tried to appeal to the casual fan who probably won’t tune in again until World Cup 2018.

Examples of the condescending, dumbed-down coverage include a video segment on Lionel Messi narrated by Fernando Fiore that explained who Messi was and how he joined Barcelona and became arguably the best footballer in the world. Then there was Rob Stone explaining to viewers why Tim Howard, after such a great 2014 World Cup, wasn’t going to be in goal for the USA.

Let’s not forget the segment narrated by Colin Cowherd that looked like a PowerPoint presentation assembled by a middle-schooler (see screengrab below).

Colin Cowherd's segment on US soccer culture.

Colin Cowherd’s segment on US soccer culture.

The segment, which Stone guaranteed we would enjoy, looked like something that had been cobbled together at the last minute. The topic was how the US soccer culture has grown so much. Yet the ploy felt like a deliberate attempt to promote Cowherd’s show at the same time as trying to tell the casual sports fan that soccer is actually bigger than most people think.

In addition to the dumbed down soccer analysis, FOX Sports went over the top with their rah-rah analysis of the USA in the pre-game show. Even though the majority of viewers, myself included, wanted the USA to win, the pre-match coverage was so focused on the United States and one player in particular from Argentina (Messi) that during the entire 2-hour pre-match broadcast, the FOX Sports analysts spent more time talking about Messi’s beard than they did about any other player on the Argentina team.

By watching the pre-match analysis and listening to the predictions from the analysts, Fiore was chastised for daring to predict that Argentina would win the match. The prevailing opinion from all of the analysts was that the United States would win this match.

usa-argentina-predictions-fox

It’s one thing to predict with your heart instead of your head, but it would have been refreshing to hear some analysis that was more thought provoking instead of just being about heart, desire and conviction.

On the positive side, the only pre-match coverage of note was the inclusion of Jermaine Jones for a segment where he gave some good insight from a player’s perspective. Other than that, it was two hours of time that we’ll never get back.

In major competitions like this and the Women’s World Cup, FOX Sports’ brash style only works when the United States team is successful. That’s the risk FOX Sports takes when they put all of their eggs into one basket. When the USA does well, so do their ratings. Luckily for FOX Sports, the USA women’s team helped frame a successful Women’s World Cup coverage for FOX last summer. And while the USA’s loss to Argentina is disappointing, the success of the team up until now was FOX Sports’ saving grace.

The problem is that there isn’t much left with FOX Sports when the USA exits a tournament. Messi, by himself, will carry the TV ratings for Sunday’s final. But outside of that, FOX’s all-American talent has very little depth — both in personnel and in knowledge. Imagine this FOX Sports talent carrying World Cup 2018. It’s a sobering thought.

While FOX Sports chose to target the casual sports fan for the USA-Argentina game, at least the game coverage was enjoyable (except for some audio/video sync issues). Perhaps that should be our expectations from now on? Skip the pre-match, half-time and post-match analysis, and just focus on the game instead. It seems to be what FOX Sports does too.

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31 Comments

31 Comments

  1. Noe

    June 24, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    The coverage has been pretty painful to watch and listen to. Most of the announcers seemed to improve over time. However, it seems that most of them, except possibly Fernando, don’t actually watch or are familiar with the other national leagues in North America, Central or South America, a few of them seem to watch the Premier League. I don’t think there’s any excuse for dumbing down the coverage to this extent given how many watchers probably grew up playing soccer.

    I would have liked to have seen post-match player interviews, subtitled would be fine. Post-match coach interviews. More in-depth knowledge of players, especially those not playing in Premier and Bundesliga. When I finally discovered Univision’s free stream (I don’t have there channel where I live and it’s not part of my regular cable sports package), I enjoyed the interviews with our foreign visitors, reports on teams training. I just wish the Univision style coverage were available in an English language version. I can understand part of the Spanish but it is definitely a stretch when I’d just like to relax and enjoy a game and the events that surround a great tournament. I do not understand why Fox Sports could not hire a different, better, more multilingual crew for this tournament and provide better background information for their announcers. So for now, I have FS1 on the big screen with Univision on the tablet. Men in Blazers for pre game commentary.

  2. Joe

    June 24, 2016 at 10:54 am

    I love Fox Sports. Really I do. I want to be entertained not bored to death. This is simple….Euro posers like ESPN/NBC because of accents. People that like anything will enjoy Fox. Sooooo many miserable soccer fans out there. I feel bad for you.

    • Kei

      June 24, 2016 at 10:59 am

      For whatever it’s worth, people who enjoy Fox Sports also tend to have the cognitive and intellectual abilities of a second grader.

      • joe

        June 24, 2016 at 1:10 pm

        Says the guy who is probably in his mid 40’s, single, lives with parents and commenting on the internet to a 17 year old.

  3. Kei

    June 23, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    Fox Sports’ coverage of Copa America is geared entirely toward NFL, MLB, and NBA fans. Period. That’s not even an opinion or an argument. That’s one of the realities of life.

    Why should anyone be surprised that Fox is choosing to prioritize soundbites and jingoism over sound and sensible analysis? That is what they do. That is who they are. And to the extent that most people who watch major soccer tournaments (ie Copa) won’t bother with the sport again until the next World Cup, it almost seems normal that the Fox talking heads would insult the viewers’ intelligence at every opportunity.

    Again, that’s not an opinion or an argument. That’s a 100% undeniable, irrefutable fact.

    Fox Sports don’t care about “growing the game” or whatever the go-to phrase for that is. Their sole focus is on getting the broadcasting rights, and then getting as many eyeballs on the screen as possible, the quality of the broadcast be damned.

    The studio hosts and commentators, most of whom will be borrowed in from places like Busch Stadium and FedEx Field for the summer, will sprinkle in as many baseball, football, and basketball cliches as possible during every game. They know damn well that they’re not appealing to the fans who wake up early on Saturdays and Sundays to watch games overseas. As far as Fox Sports is concerned: F— the hardcore fans. That’s always been their mentality.

    And when Alexi Lalas states that Tuesday’s game wasn’t reflective of the true level of USMNT, that’s not just him being a brain-eating amoeba. Somebody has to play the role of a hype man at Fox Sports; their very ethos basically demands they have one. Did he believe a single word of what he said throughout the pre-game and post-game shows? Hell no.

    But as with everything else related to Fox Sports… you can’t destroy credibility where none existed in the first place.

  4. Viva La Espana

    June 23, 2016 at 5:15 am

    Tbh, I’m slightly disappointed with ESPN’s decision to Americanize the coverage of Euro 2016. They should realize that most people who are watching the Euros are either European expats or avid football fans who watch European domestic league fixtures every week for 9 months out of the year. That’s enough time to get familiarized with at thick Scottish or Irish accent, or a Dutch or German one, or a Spanish one. lol. They don’t want to listen to Taylor Twellan or Kate Markgraf or Abby Wambach use American jargon to appeal to a novice American. I like some of the additions they have made like Vincent Kompany and Frank LeBeouf and Craig Burley. They also did a good job of retaining Roberto Martinez and Michael Ballack and Santiago Solari(even though he’s not European but has played in top flight Spanish football for Real Madrid). But they could have replaced Markgraf with a more qualified person like say, Gaizke Mendietta or Michel Salgado, both of whom can speak decent English, albeit with a thick Spanish accent.

    • Kei

      June 23, 2016 at 1:17 pm

      Max Bretos was an absolute disaster in the Euro games he called. Nothing but baseball and football euphemisms from him for two hours. But we knew that’s what we would get when Bob Ley turned it over to him.

  5. Viva La Espana

    June 23, 2016 at 5:06 am

    The time to pander to casual fans is long gone now. Perhaps 10 years ago, television networks who were presenting association football to an American audience felt the need to dumb down and pander to the casuals. But the game has comes leaps and bounds since then. Now, everyone has had experience with Fox Soccer Channel or NBC Sports or beIN Sports watching their favorite domestic leagues every weekend. Most regular football have a pretty solid understanding of different tactics and formations. Plus, most footie fans in the USA are young people under the age of 35. If anything, the networks should be prioritizing their interests over the interests of casual fans who only watch when the USMNT plays. Enough of my rant.

  6. Gringo

    June 22, 2016 at 10:27 pm

    Same old Fox Sports. Assholes.

  7. Alan

    June 22, 2016 at 9:07 pm

    Agree that the better ESPN does as they demonstrated today FOX execs go,in the opposite direction, make it louder, high jinks, jingoism to the max, high above the clouds analysis, call Dr. Joe on the obvious,
    They will,continue with this formula as the ratings are saying they are on the right track. But it is painful to watch!!

    • Nate

      August 22, 2016 at 5:01 pm

      Fox needs to ditch Dr. Joe, JP, Stone, Wagner, Lalas, Wynalda, Followil, and Cangialosi. It’ll be a failure if Fox doesn’t add English commentators when it comes to the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2017 we will know if the Fox execs see the horse’s head and not the horse’s ass.

      • Rvsqz

        August 22, 2016 at 5:14 pm

        Agree with all of this but they won’t.

  8. Curly Puffs

    June 22, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    What a let down the 2018 World Cup is set up to be. Fox’s coverage is woeful. It makes you wonder what the executives are saying to each other when they watch the far superior NBC and ESPN product. I imagine they feel a kind of stubborn jealousy, too proud to change their ways, but deep down knowing they’re half-assing it and doing the sport a disservice. I wonder if some of those good ESPN commentators and pundits will stoop to Fox’s level and decide to jump ship for the World Cup. It would be tough to willingly drop so low.

  9. bouts77

    June 22, 2016 at 7:27 pm

    foxsports have no idea just stick to showing garb nfl basketball and iother stupid crap..leave football to the real winners like Univision and beinsport..at least they know what their talking about.having a ranga as a host id rather eat a raw fish and not sushi..also AFL cricket sucks Australians need to suck it because theyre a bunch of whinging asses

  10. scrumper

    June 22, 2016 at 6:26 pm

    When Lalas starts his drivel and waving his arms around he reminds me of one of those inflatable stick figures you see outside of gas stations. Stone could be replaced with a root vegetable and nobody would notice. The Hispanic guy was set up to be a stand up comedian and who was the female? What a waste of space. All she did was flash her giant choppers each time the camera focused on her. Women should not be on the broadcast tea at the men’s game. They add nothing and look totally out of place. It was also ridiculous idea to have a woman giving silly little updates from the touch line. This is not a boring NFL game where nothing happens for long periods. Her piece about some paper hanging up in the locker room spurring the US on was hilarious.

    This Landon Donovan was about as enyoyable as a trip to the dentist. All in all a total disaster by Fox. But then again it’s to be expected.

  11. Rick

    June 22, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    Wait until World Cup 2018- games will be on FS1, FS2 and FX. We will be lucky to get the final on FOX network.

    Very bad coverage- FOX needs to learn from ESPN and NBC. How many years will it take?

  12. Zack

    June 22, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    It’s fair to say that FOX took a step down from their Women’s World Cup coverage. Though their coverage wasn’t a disaster, it was very subpar compared to ESPN’s Euro’s coverage. Friedel should’ve been in the studio and Joy should’ve been doing something. And speaking of Joy, where was he? He would’ve added a good amount of quality to their coverage!

    • Christopher Harris

      June 22, 2016 at 2:13 pm

      It appears that FOX Sports decided not to use any of its international talent such as Ian Joy (who is American), Julie Stewart-Binks, Ross Dyer, Keith Costigan and Warren Barton.

      • Lawrence Dockery

        June 22, 2016 at 5:11 pm

        Well they deserve big props for not using Warren Barton. Quite literally the worst pundit ever.

  13. RevSA

    June 22, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Fox is awful, always has been alwsys will be. Lalas is a professional troll but seems to have a big following, Fiore was played out on Univision so he moved his nonsense over to Fox.

  14. TiLoBrown

    June 22, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    I read that Stone tweet like even he knew it was bad, but he had to promote it

    • Lawrence Dockery

      June 22, 2016 at 12:40 pm

      Rob Stone is a goon and a big part of the problem.

  15. TheTruth

    June 22, 2016 at 10:36 am

    Donovan still needs more practice in my opinion. He needs to learn when he should be talking and when to shut up. There were a few times when a chance was developing and Donovan continued to talk, preventing JP from calling the play. Additionally, there were a few times were a replay was shown and Donovan was silent (probably because he was looking at the field no his monitor). To be fair JP probably should have clued him in that a replay was being shown by saying, but most veteran color commentators know to provide analysis for almost all replays. Finally, not sure why Donovan decided that he needed to apologize to JP about the pitch invader at the start of the second half.

    Another issue I had with Donovan was that he seemed scared to criticize certain members of the US team perhaps to not ruin any personal relationships. I got the sense that he was not at all satisfied with Guzan, Wondolowski, and Bradley’s performance, but Donovan seemed to be holding back what he really wanted to say. At half time Alexi Lalas did what Donovan should have done and called out Wondolowski for his poor performance.

    Overall though I think that Donovan has good potential, he just isn’t quite there yet in my opinion. I would have liked to see both Friedel and Donovan in the booth. I think the two of them would have offered a good variety of perspectives.

    • TheTruth

      June 22, 2016 at 10:48 am

      Uggh sorry for all the typos. No edit button…

  16. NaBUru38

    June 22, 2016 at 10:14 am

    I’m Uruguayan, so I have never seen a Fox Sports USA program. But I’m pretty sure that this criticism of Fox Sports shoyldnt be about focusibg on casual vs hardcore fans.

    You can help newcomers to understand things while giving insight for hardcore fans. The problem happens when the introduction is dumbing rather than welcoming.

    • Nate

      July 30, 2016 at 1:50 pm

      Trust me it’s really bad like what ESPN did in 2006 and then listened to the fans and brought world class coverage

  17. Lawrence Dockery

    June 22, 2016 at 9:32 am

    I was listening to the Freddie Coleman Show on ESPN Radio on the way home last night and they were (shockingly) talking about the game and he actually called out FOX for their rah rah pep rally, coverage of the US and said that being patriotic is fine, but this took it too far and there needs to be some sense of reality when you cover a big tournament like this.

  18. Christian

    June 22, 2016 at 9:30 am

    Letting Cowherd anywhere near this tournament is laughable but this is the same network that thought Gus Johnson announcing Champions League matches was a good idea.

    • Lawrence Dockery

      June 22, 2016 at 9:36 am

      I actually didn’t mind Cowherd too much. I didn’t see the segment live, but I caught it online when I got home. He’s one of the few people who will A) talk about it on a semi-regular basis and B) he understands that Klinsmann can only do so much with the limited player pool and lack of talent.

    • Tim

      June 22, 2016 at 10:03 am

      Disagree. Cowherd is more informative than some of the pundits that do the actual games. Also called for soccer taking over hockey in this country and gave great analysis is to why.

      • Christian

        June 22, 2016 at 10:22 am

        Cowherd is always right and he’s the first one to tell you so.

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