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FOX’s 2019 Women’s World Cup coverage reviewed

Women's World Cup coverage

FOX Sports’ second cycle as the US English-language FIFA rights holder has begun this summer with coverage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup as well as the FIFA Under-20 World Cup. Following last summer’s coverage of Russia 2018, FOX seems to have returned to a “back-to-basics” approach with Women’s World Cup.

Women’s World Cup Coverage Review

Studio

Rob Stone, as a host, continues to be styled more for American sports. He began FOX’s month of live Women’s World Cup coverage with stand up at Eiffel Tower and interjected stand-up spots throughout the weekend. But Stone, for all his drawbacks, is smooth and an advocate for soccer among mainstream sporting personalities. His presence as host elevates the possibility of FOX hooking casuals.

Heather O’Reilly, one of the great versatile players of recent years in the women’s game (sort of a James Milner-type), has provided analysis in the outdoor Parisian studio with an Eiffel Tower backdrop alongside a rotating case of Ariane Hingst, Kelly Smith, Kate Gill, Alexi Lalas and Karina LeBlanc. O’Reilly has been very good, though FOX’s decision to keep only Americans in the studio to discuss the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) on Friday was patronizing. However, FOX’s USA! USA! first approach we saw in 2015 for this tournament has been toned down. Having been burnt on the men’s side by building coverage around the USA, FOX seems to be taking a more cosmopolitan and balanced tone this time around.

The general tone in the studio setup is simple. Alexi Lalas, from time to time, brings tactics and style into the discussions but the analysts are generally very basic giving stats and thoughts like “she’s very experienced,” or “she has been at X number of World Cups.” One of the more annoying features of the “back to basics” approach is the narrated features with music that air during every studio show. This is classic FOX and represents a far different approach to international events than other US networks.

Eni Aluko’s appearance on Sunday was very welcome. Aluko, the former England and Chelsea star, brings an intellectual approach to her analysis, something often on display in her excellent newspaper columns. Aluko, who now plays for Juventus but no longer is part of the England set-up, had more in-depth understanding of how the players on both England and Scotland are currently performing versus what we had seen in the build-up to other matches.

SEE MORE: Schedule of Women’s World Cup games on US TV and streaming

US Women’s coverage over the weekend generally emanated from Alex Curry’s “USWNT Report,” which aired during every studio show. The US playing its first match on the fifth day of the tournament has allowed FOX Sports to gradually introduce every US player properly.

FOX has surprisingly not shied away from the Ada Hegerberg absence at this World Cup. As a FIFA rights-holder, it has felt in the past that FOX pulled its punches on some of the critical issues facing the game. But when it came to equal pay and Hegerberg, they had a vibrant conversation though both O’Reilly and Lalas claimed the Norwegian superstar had not provided enough clarity about her grievances. Lalas summed up his frustration in the lack of clear messaging from the reigning Ballon d’or winner by asking “Ada tell us what exactly you want!”

Grant Wahl’s role as a reporter-at-large has been minimal. This is likely to change as other stories emerge during the tournament or if FOX decides to push MLS/USMNT news into the broadcasts.

Saturday’s Spain-South Africa match was shrouded in VAR-induced controversy, and the FOX studio pulled apart both the penalty decision for Spain with a great deal of enthusiasm. It was the most lively discussion of the weekend to that point but was quickly followed up by the conversation about Hegerberg, which was equally passionate.

Jenny Taft, who has helped Stone with early morning hosting duties, has been solid if unspectacular.

One takeaway though on the FOX studio is if Lalas doesn’t stimulate argumentative conversation, it generally doesn’t happen. Lalas isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and I admit I myself blow hot and cold on him but this past weekend he has been dialed in, offering some very insightful commentary while pushing buttons to elicit reactions out of the rest of the studio team. During the course of the tournament, this should be an interesting dynamic to keep an eye on.

Game Commentary

My initial concern entering the tournament was about Lisa Byington who is not a soccer announcer, but someone known for calling American sports. But she’s been very good and helped by a smart pairing with Cat Whitehill. Byington is a professional, and she clearly has become more comfortable with calling soccer. Byington has learned the art of letting matches breathe a quality male American sports-oriented announcers would do well to emulate.

The broadcast duo of Jenn Hildreth and Kyndra de St Aubin, who called the controversial Spain-South Africa match, were fantastic. They didn’t miss a single critical match event. Hildreth’s timing on when to interject stories about the players or teams was perfect. Her improvement since she first began calling WPS games in 2009 for FOX has been exponential. In those days, Hildreth was raw, coming off time doing ACC basketball and football. In those days, she’d over call a match but in the years since she’s become one of the best American commentators on the sport.

Pairing Hildreth with de St Aubin, who has become one of the best MLS co-commentators in her work for Minnesota United, has given FOX an elite, all-female broadcast pairing. De St Aubin is a rising star in the field of American soccer co-commentary, and one with the potential to break all sorts of glass ceilings in the future.

Derek Rae and Danielle Slaton were unsparingly solid as were JP Dellacamera and Aly Wagner. Glenn Davis and Angela Hucles called what might be one of the matches of the tournament between Australia and Italy. Both did well on that match.

FOX’s decision to leave lead soccer commentator John Strong behind in the United States to call CONCACAF Gold Cup and MLS action this month wasn’t something I felt was wise given the brand of FOX Soccer has become so tied to Strong. But through the first weekend, Strong hasn’t been missed. However, during knockout stages of the tournament, I sense this concentration might be revisited. The reality is that despite FOX’s efforts to promote the US Men’s National Team, interest is waning in that product and Strong is in my opinion more tied to the FOX brand than to the US men’s brand. Not having him at FOX’s big showcase remains a decision worth critiquing.

In general, I have to conclude that female commentators in the United States are not only better for women’s soccer, they are generally better for high-level men’s soccer as well. Most don’t over talk or over call a match. The female co-commentators tend to be very analytical as well. Something has to be said for the fact that American women have played the sport at a much higher level relative to most of the men – so while most American men can do alright on MLS matches when it comes to higher level internationals even women tend to have a better perspective – this is something I noticed with Julie Foudy years ago when ESPN would use her on men’s international tournaments. She tended to have more useful perspectives in the later stages of the tournament because she had experienced that level of pressure and competition. Exceptions exist to this general feeling but it’s something I’ve come to believe over a number of years of soccer viewing.

Rules Expert

Christina Unkel is a major upgrade over Dr. Joe Machnik. She’s more media savvy and far more direct in making her point. Unkel has been spot on in her contributions regarding VAR calls. As an active official, Unkel seems to be more practical in her analysis than Machnik was. Not that he wasn’t usually right, but his explanations were often more academic in how they were delivered.

Bottom Line

FOX’s studio is classic FOX, i.e. a back-to-basics approach that has left some fans I talk to searching for BBC coverage behind a VPN or watching Telemundo. However, with the larger audience expected of casual sports fans as well as the toned down USA rhetoric, FOX’s coverage of the first weekend of the World Cup was an improvement over previous efforts. Standing out were the match commentary teams who excelled all weekend long.

The broadcast tenor of FOX isn’t appealing to core soccer fans but with crisper production and well-prepared talent, this tournament could be the network’s best yet. We’ll have to see in a Women’s World Cup coverage review following the conclusion of the tournament.

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41 Comments

41 Comments

  1. P McG

    July 7, 2019 at 12:47 pm

    Final: Commentary is genuinely $hit. The man has no clue about the game or opposing players and the woman just misunderstands the rules. btw, there’s simply no such thing as “drawing a foul” in this game. GEt rid of.

  2. Ada Niedenthal

    July 6, 2019 at 12:23 pm

    I would appreciate it if the television commentators would spend less time critiquing and coaching and reviewing previous matches and would spend some time telling me about the action currently taking place on the field.
    Right now (England and Sweden) the commentators are not doing any play by play.

  3. Sweeny

    July 4, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    Why is the TV coverage ok in some games(US v England) but total crap in others(Ned v Sweden). You’re either looking from the nosebleed seats or up someone’s nose! No reason to show the whole field plus half the stands on the other side. Horrible job. And don’t ever have the cameraman stand behind the person taking a corner kick. All the action is in front of the net!

  4. alan

    June 30, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    The game commentary stinks. They never stop chattering and most of the chatyer has no bearing on the actual game.

  5. Wynalda

    June 28, 2019 at 8:58 am

    Has anyone heard Fox explain why they sent Glenn Davis packing after calling a Japan group stage match? Might it have been something he said? Some explosive comments perhaps?

  6. C Nair

    June 28, 2019 at 12:29 am

    Fox people need to watch the Spanish channels to watch how football should be covered. I don’t know Spanish but enjoy how they show replays from different angles. Also Fox’s half time show is all ads. They promise to show highlights of the other game (or at least the goals) and then they never do, or show just one goal and it’s back to the ads.

  7. Jayne

    June 27, 2019 at 11:01 pm

    Where is Julie Foudy in WWC 2019? I liked Danielle Slaton and Cat Whitehill as players, but like Jen Hildreth they do not have good announcing voices. In fact, Slaton and Hildreth’s voices are just plain annoying. I’m glad Heather Mitts is NOT announcing. Thank you!

  8. Scrumper

    June 23, 2019 at 4:06 pm

    I was enjoying Fox’s coverage and then that idiot Lalas showed up with his know all attitude. Bad move Fox.

  9. Oliver Tse

    June 22, 2019 at 2:13 pm

    This is classic Alexi Lalas, dropping Australia 4 spots in his “power rankings” because Chelsea FC has offered Sam Kerr USD$500K/season for 2 seasons.

    Lalas stirred the pot enough to manufacture a debate against Eniola Aluko. Kate Gill was also not amused.

  10. Matthew Motta

    June 20, 2019 at 1:19 pm

    Fox should be blasting VAR. They keep insisting that VAR gets all the calls right, when it clearly does not. Everything looks like a penalty in super slow mo. Half of these penalties are the wrong call. VAR also wrecks a key part of the game in a horrible way. VAR is like a time out. VAR greatly reduces the need to run run run for 90 minutes. There used to be no time outs in the game, and now there are giving the less fit side a chance to catch their breath. VAR is b.s.

    • Rover

      June 20, 2019 at 11:53 pm

      VAR was supposed to correct glaring mistakes, but they are spending 5 minutes at a time figuring out if the goalie was one inch off the line on a penalty kick. It’s making the beautiful game more like the NBA or NFL

  11. Richard Haas

    June 20, 2019 at 12:28 pm

    JP is the best. He actually calls the match while all the others babble about the players and the tournament, and talk way too much.

  12. stephen a smith

    June 19, 2019 at 7:19 pm

    correct pronunciation should be Yuh-MOSH-tuh, not Yuh-MASH-tuh. sorry

  13. stephen a smith

    June 19, 2019 at 7:16 pm

    How hard is it to learn to pronounce the players’ names correctly? Throughout the Japan – England match Dellacamera and Wagner pronounced the Japanese goaltender’s name (Yamachita) Yama-SHEET-uh. The correct pronunciation is Yuh-MASH-tuh. This seems to be a basic responsibility of a game broadcaster, but apparently not at Fox.

    • jen

      June 21, 2019 at 6:27 pm

      Who cares? Do u think Japanese announcers pronounce every American name correctly? DO we have to stop Saying “Germany” and instead call it “Deutschland”, or whatever? It’s not that big a deal. We pronounce things the American way.

  14. Al

    June 19, 2019 at 3:13 am

    With the incredible number of talented women that could be providing commentary, why pick a mansplaining misogynist? Come on Fox, get it together and have women provide commentary on the Women’s World Cup. Lalas just talks too much and seems like he always has to be right. Typical man and that judgement is coming from a man.

    • Oliver Tse

      June 19, 2019 at 4:53 pm

      Once again, FOX needs Lalas for one purpose: to pick France to oust the US during the quarterfinal round.

      Women’s soccer is extremely political. Heather O’Reilly cannot say many of the things that Lalas can say.

    • jen

      June 21, 2019 at 6:25 pm

      Oh for crying out loud. They had female announcers at the men’s cup. So they can’t even have 1 male ex-player commenting at this cup? Give me a break. I’m female and I have zero issues with this. This kind of nonsense is why feminists are so annoying.

    • Azer

      June 21, 2019 at 11:04 pm

      You are confusing commentary with analyses. Alexi Lalas is an analyst in the Fox studio in Paris. He provides analyses and gives his opinion. He is not a commentator like Darek Rae is for example. In other words, he doesn’t call the games. There is a talented woman doing commentary on the 2019 Women’s World Cup and her name is Jacqui Oatley. I watched a couple of games where she was the commentator. Jacqui has an incredible voice. I’m not wasting my time with Fox Sports. I’ve done it last year, never again.

  15. Oliver Tse

    June 15, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    Cat Whitehill is stepping up her game, as one would expect after she dropped from the #1 team during WWC 2015 (as a token female in the booth, as the late Tony Diccico was the lead match analyst/co-commentator alongside JP) to the #4 team during WWC 2019.

    Aly Wagner, Danielle Slaton, and Kyndra de St Aubin are all calling men’s games regularly, whereas Whitehill didn’t get her shot at an MLS game until Mother’s Day 2019 when FOX Sports decided it need to take care Jenn Hildreth (whose best shot at an MLS regional game last September, San Jose vs Atlanta, was taken away from regional broadcasters by MLS and granted to Univision Deportes) and Whitehill got the assignment as well.

    Whitehill, who now lives in Atlanta (after moving from Boston) and is within relatively easy commuting distance to ESPN-owned ACC Network and SEC Network women’s college soccer TV analysis assignments, is a potential option for Turner Sports’ Bleacher Report Football studio, especially if Turner decides to retool and expand UEFA coverage to include the Europa League. Whitehill is not ready yet for Champions League studio punditry, but the Europa League would be a fit for her as she will be able to prove her knowledge and work ethic away from the spotlight to earn her way up from the “B” team.

    • jen

      June 21, 2019 at 6:23 pm

      Too much information. It’s not that deep. Take a breath buddy LOL!

  16. jallen

    June 15, 2019 at 11:46 am

    During the coverage of the US/Thailand match I had to turn off the sound as I find it so annoying to have the match presented in a play by play manner. When watching soccer I never say (in my head) who has the ball…….perhaps on a break-a-way but never with each pass. It becomes so distracting. Give us more color…….who is doing what right or wrong. What should they be doing, etc.
    But please, please………stop announcing each pass!!!

    • jen

      June 21, 2019 at 6:21 pm

      They have to do that. The Fox broadcasts are simulcast on XM Radio, so the radio audience needs that type of play by play. They don’t use different announcers on XM radio, they just play the audio of the regular TV broadcast. I have listened to the games while driving and they do a good job.

  17. Jodianne

    June 14, 2019 at 2:29 pm

    Rob Stone should be replaced! Respect the game and play to win- I really don’t care for his point of views.

  18. Ashley

    June 14, 2019 at 2:22 pm

    Ariane Hingst, Kelly Smith and Eni Aluko have been great in the studio. I want to see basically just them the whole time, please. Lalas and Stone have been good, as always, as well. Christina Unkel is a refreshing addition. I’d like to see her as a common feature. Karina LeBlanc seems like she’s raging at a party – too chaotic and sporadic. I find it hard to watch O’Reilly – she’s got good commentary but her slumped body posture with her head hung low and her neck hunched forward kills me. Please, Heather, if you’re reading this – just stretch your neck and back every now and then.

  19. Oliver Tse

    June 13, 2019 at 4:36 pm

    Noticed a complaint on Twitter that Lisa Byington mispronounced Barça during Wednesday’s Germany vs Spain match.

    twitter(dot)com/DonnyKerabatso2/status/1138894764324077570

    Byington is fast turning into the “Gus Johnson” of the Women’s World Cup: too much emphasis on catch phases, not enough attention to detail.

    The combination of ego and carelessness can and will derail sportscasting careers.

    We are watching a slow motion train wreck is Lisa Byington as her mistakes pile up…

  20. RVNdraftee

    June 11, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    The video and audio are constantly freezing. This is very annoying and seems to happen just as a goal is about to be made. I hope Fox never gets another major sporting event again.

  21. Neil

    June 11, 2019 at 5:12 pm

    Rob stone is a moron, lay back? It’s the World Cup you idiot. Play the opposing team needs to stop you. Your a jerk

    • Ohwrd

      June 15, 2019 at 9:59 am

      I agree. He is very annoying in almost all areas he covers as well. Please get rid of him. Jen Taft is soooo much better!

    • Yoda

      June 27, 2019 at 11:32 pm

      Wow! He may be an idiot perhaps. But I am quite certain his grammar is way better than yours.

  22. Carlos

    June 11, 2019 at 1:24 am

    As usual Lalas is the glue that holds the whole fox soccer team together. He was great on ESPN during the World Cup after hours sessions… The people that don’t like Lalas are hard-core fans who just didn’t like his playing style or whatever… As an announcer he is spot on! Rob $tone also definitely adds credibility as the author noted and gives the game an American touch.

    • Oliver Tse

      June 11, 2019 at 3:44 am

      Furthermore, Alexi Lalas is absolutely necessary because he can wear the “black hat” without any political backlash.

      Lalas is predicting that the USWNT will lose to France in the quarterfinal round.

      That’s the one thing that Heather O’Reilly cannot say because O’Reilly is still playing in the NWSL (Carolina Courage) alongside teammates who are still active with the USWNT.

      With that said, O’Reilly is miles ahead of the former USWNTer she replaced., as she is not afraid to be critical of USWNT players and coaching staff when necessary.

      During WWC 2015, Heather Mitts might as well have brought a pair of pom-poms to the FOX Studio set. Note that Mitts and Angela Hucles are partners in a wealth management firm with former USWNT’ers as clients. There is no way the likes of Mitts (and ESPN WWC 1999 analyst Wendy Gebauer (Gebauer was Mia Hamm’s stockbroker) would say anything critical of the USWNT.

      Mitts has been banished to the SEC ESPN Network to call SEC Women’s Soccer with Jenn Hildreth.

      • Carlos

        June 11, 2019 at 11:17 am

        Very good point. . Agree 100%

    • Jasinho

      June 11, 2019 at 6:23 pm

      You forgot the /s, didn’t you?

  23. Azer

    June 11, 2019 at 12:10 am

    In the 90’s minute Australia vs Italy game Fox put the word Final on the clock as the game was still in progress then removed the clock from the screen. It was brought back 30 seconds or so later. Did anyone else notice this? Fox Sports didn’t prepare for the World Cup at all. They keep embarrassing themselves, especially commentating the games. It’s a complete disaster.

  24. Oliver Tse

    June 10, 2019 at 11:51 pm

    Peruvian play-by-play commenator Sammy Sadovnik of Telemundo Deportes (USA – Spanish) used a common technique to buy himself time during his call of the 2nd Brazil goal by Cristiane:

    Sadovnik’s call: “…el centroooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo … ¡GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL! …”

    Sadovnik began his ¡GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL! call the moment he saw the referee point to the center circle.

    In contrast, Byington was too busy executing her prepared “scripted” commentary “…Oh, goodness! the defensive plays…” to notice the referee.

    “It takes 20 years to build a reputation but only 5 minutes to lose it…” – Warren Buffett

    It’s too bad.

    Byington had potential to become the first woman to call TV play-by-play of the NFL Super Bowl (as early as Super Bowl 54 next February) and the Men’s World Cup Final (in 2026.)

    However if she continues her current trajectory, she will NOT be anywhere close to being good enough to stick around for another World Cup cycle and she won’t come within breathing distance of the FOX Lot during Women’s World Cup 2023.

    There are too many good play-by-play announcers coming up the ranks in their 20s, both men and women, who will surpass Byington, who is on the wrong side of 45 and is approaching 50.

  25. Oliver Tse

    June 10, 2019 at 9:21 pm

    Lisa Byington botched the call of the 2nd Brazil goal scored by Cristiane against Jamaica on Sunday.

    Byington’s call: “Andresa…wide open…Cristiane…a save by Plummer at the goal line! Oh, goodness! the defensive plays…They’re going to award Brazil, they say it crossed the goal line.”

    10 seconds elapsed after the ball actually crossed the goal line before Byington acknowledged the goal.

    In her defense, Lisa Byington wasn’t the only play-by-play announcer calling the match “off tube” to miscall the goal. Both Claudine Douville (for RDS in French-speaking Canada, off tube from Montreal) and Claudia Neumann (for ZDF of Germany, off tube from Mainz) made the same error.

    However, Peruvian play-by-play announcer Sammy Sadovnik of Telemundo Deportes (U.S. Spanish-language) only took 3 seconds to acknowledge the goal because he saw the referee point to the center circle. Sadovnik was calling the match “off tube” from Miami.

    Sadovnik saw the referee’s signal.

    Byington’s relative inexperience with International soccer showed in that instance. This is the Women’s World Cup, not the National Women’s Soccer League and definitely NOT Big Ten Conference Women’s College Soccer.

    The one English-language play-by-play announcer who was actually on site in Grenoble, British commentator Steve Wilson of Host Broadcast Services (HBS) a.k.a. “The World Feed”, made the correct call and confirmed it 3 seconds after the ball actually crossed the goal line:

    “…Andresaaaaaa…tap in is it?…Looks like it crossed the line…goal is given…”

    The BBC took the HBS world feed wtih Steve Wilson straight through instead of sending its own lead commentators (Jonathan Pearce for England matches, Robyn Cowen to 1 match per day when England are off) to the match.

    • nosferatu

      June 12, 2019 at 5:23 pm

      When people wonder why people criticize “off-tube” announcing, this seems to be a pretty strong example for why it’s inferior. There are also smaller, less-obvious reasons, but it’s certainly notable when there’s a significant example such as this.

      • Oliver Tse

        June 12, 2019 at 11:57 pm

        Search “Byington Goals” for video evidence plus in-depth OBJECTIVE analysis of that 2nd Brazil goal vs Jamaica this past Sunday.

  26. JP

    June 10, 2019 at 2:38 pm

    Nice, in my opinion none of this matters as much as we think it does.

    Don’t really care for in depth tactical analysis pre and post game, just want to table set pregame…lineups, atmosphere etc. Post game want a quick overview of the key moments and player reactions. For tactical analysis I’d look for that on dedicated stand alone programming, where more than one game or match is the focus.

    As for announcers, just don’t ruin the viewing experience. That means no “IT’S SOCCER TIME” and “READY AIM FIRE” guy we got for some World Cup matches last summer. Good announcers do make it much better than merely competent announcers, but not a make or break in terms of viewing. Phil Schoen talks too much but he’s bearable. Mark Donaldson’s voice grates on me after a while but not turning off the match, etc.

    • Bilbo Baggins

      June 15, 2019 at 9:10 am

      Let’s face it: the commentators are mediocre. They are cost effective alternatives to world class football commentators. I would suggest for those wanting something close to real football commentators, to watch the matches on BBC via VPN.
      Jonathan Pearce is far above any of the commentators Fox can offer.
      I just can’t bear to listen to “endline, sideline, etc.”
      If I lived in the UK and had to endure baseball being tortured in this matter I would be saying the same thing and using a VPN to watch American baseball broadcasters.

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