Never before in the history of soccer in the United States was a single game hyped so much. It was mentioned in every pre-match, match commentary, and post-match discussion leading up to Black Friday. There was nothing wrong about getting excited for England against the United States. However, the incessant hyping of one game over the 19 World Cup games played before it was indicative of FOX’s World Cup coverage.
When you have so much riding on a single game being the difference between success and failure for FOX Sports‘ TV ratings at the World Cup, you have a bigger issue.
The target audience for FOX Sports
Now that the England-United States game has ended, let’s take a look at FOX Sports’ coverage from the first week of the 2022 World Cup.
After watching practically every minute of their coverage since opening day, here’s the biggest takeaway from FOX’s World Cup coverage. We are not the target audience.
Simple as it sounds, every time I watch FOX’s coverage each day, the realization is that their coverage is not for soccer fans. It’s for mainstream American sports fans who rarely consume soccer or don’t know any better.
After all, FOX knows that diehard soccer fans like us will watch the games no matter how mediocre their coverage is. We’re not the audience they’re trying to win over.
How FOX’s World Cup coverage is doing in the studio
So what has FOX Sports’ studio coverage been like, so far? I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many pundits give such safe, un-opinionated analysis in all my life. The analysis, if it can be called that, is rudimentary. Take a seat at your local bar or pub, and you’re very likely to hear more insight than what the FOX studio team are sharing. Seriously.
For instance, after watching just one episode of ESPN FC, I heard better analysis there than I did spending six days of watching FOX’s World Cup coverage.
So much so there has not been one piece of analysis that taught me something or made me think deeper about something that happened. That’s after watching six continuous days of FOX Sports broadcasts for twelve hours per day (4AM-4PM ET).
It’s almost as if FOX Sports are hiring all of the cookie-cutter talent from the same agency. Hire the talent that’s recognizable but has nothing to say. Meanwhile, there are plenty of examples of more insightful and engaging talent that get completely ignored because they’re not represented by the agency.
The only bright spot in all of the analysis thus far has been Alexi Lalas. At least you could tell he did his preparation ahead of this World Cup.
FOX’s dress rehearsal leading up to USA-England
The first six days of FOX’s World Cup coverage has felt like a movie trailer to the big picture: England against the United States. Everything had been building to that one game. FOX’s memo to their studio talent must have stressed the same main points each day:
• Be safe, don’t say anything controversial, and
• Don’t forget to mention the USA-England game
Now that the game is over, at least diehard soccer fans can let out a sense of relief. The coverage can turn to other topics, at least a little more than thus far.
Not everyone will agree with me about FOX’s World Cup coverage.
In addition to some media analysts who don’t watch soccer that closely who won’t understand the difference in coverage, others may be bedazzled by the studio set. For instance, I believe part of the reason some have responded favorably to FOX in the World Cup is because how good the set looks.
FOX’s coverage looks like a million dollars because that’s less than what they spent on the studio.
Don’t be distracted by what you see, though. Listen to what they say.
For instance, it is head scratching how unprepared and ineffective FOX’s studio analysts are. It’s embarrassing the way that Jenny Taft and Kelly Smith mispronounce the names of Germany’s World Cup veterans such as Manuel Neuer, Serge Gnabry or Thomas Müller. It’s even worse when you consider that Smith did the same exact thing at World Cup 2018 for FOX.
But as a whole, FOX Sports’ studio coverage can be best summed up by lots of talking, but really not saying anything. The rotating cast of Clint Dempsey, Carli Lloyd, Eni Aluko and Maurice Edu have provided nothing of substance. There has also been an absence of thought-provoking questions from presenters Taft, Rob Stone and Tom Rinaldi.
Everything is a softball question followed by a softball answer.
The most glaring aspect that’s missing
I took a brief break this week to watch coverage from broadcasters outside of the United States. What was glaring in just a few minutes was the missing piece of FOX’s World Cup coverage.
That is proper match analysis, especially after the full time whistle.
Other broadcasters have been using on-screen graphics to draw the attention of viewers to specific moments in games — key plays, how opponents created space, as well as the intricacies of the game that help show us how games were won or lost.
There has been no such analysis by FOX Sports. Instead, we get incessant talk with zero insight.
What FOX Sports are providing before and after games, and during halftime, is filler with no redeeming qualities.
Thoughts on FOX’s World Cup commentators
Before the World Cup started, I was excited for FOX’s lineup of commentators for the World Cup.
Now that we’re in the World Cup, we’re seeing and hearing the strengths and weaknesses of the announcers.
The pairing of Ian Darke and Landon Donovan has been a joy to listen to, but they’re still finding their rhythm together. Derek Rae, always well-prepared, has been at his best yet again, and was a welcome relief to hear when he called the Germany-Japan game, in particular. His broadcast partner Aly Wagner is too talkative in her role as a co-commentator. She’s much better as a studio analyst where the expectation is that pundits can talk at greater length.
John Strong and Stu Holden have been the usual way-too-talkative duo. Their commentaries are formulaic, and they continue having a difficult time of separating themselves from being commentators and USA fans. Yes, we all want the US to win, but some of their whining comments about referees in the second half of the USA-Wales game were unbecoming of their profession.
When Holden has made guest appearances on the studio set, he has been full of energy but lacks substance. His role is more of an excited cheerleader. The commentary gantry is a better spot for him.
Speaking of Holden and Strong, it’d be a welcome thought for FOX Sports to mix things up a little bit instead of always having those two work together. Their diatribes get boring, real fast.
Holden is improving, however. He just needs to stop wearing his heart on his sleeve when he’s co-commentating US games. Whenever the US is playing poorly, he “swallows his tongue.”
With commentating, it’s a lot more subjective than studio analysis. Everyone has a different taste. For example, Jacqui Oatley and Warren Barton may not be to everyone’s liking. Oatley is a welcoming voice to listen to, but their jolly banter between the pair got tiresome by day five. It’s one thing to joke around during lulls in the game, but when it’s too distracting when we’re trying to focus on the match at hand.
Cobi Jones has been much better in this tournament than in his stints for FOX during previous Gold Cup tournaments. JP Dellacamera I like, but I realize his radio-friendly commentaries are not for everyone.
Overall, the commentators from FOX Sports have been a mixed bag, but certainly much improved compared to World Cup 2018.
Highlights and lowlights of FOX’s broadcasts
From what I’ve seen in this World Cup thus far, the best thing about FOX’s coverage has been Chad Ochocinco Johnson on the FIFA World Cup Tonight program alongside Kate Abdo. The sooner FOX can incorporate Ochocinco more into its daytime programming, the better.
Due to the midnight ET start, many have missed out on Ochocinco’s unbridled passion for soccer. His smile and natural, engaging personality are infectious.
We’ve covered FOX Sports’ coverage of the World Cup in detail, and we haven’t mentioned one of the most important facets of their coverage, or lack thereof. How FOX has decided to ignore all of the off-the-field incidents in Qatar, so they can focus only on the games. That’s a convenience for FOX Sports especially when Qatar is giving millions to FOX.
Rather than revisit how FOX has been censoring itself from reporting on Qatar, let’s leave that for other publications.
Soccer audiences are being conditioned by FOX
In speaking with our readers who are diehard soccer fans, we’re noticing a significant new development. FOX’s World Cup coverage is so mediocre that it’s forcing many soccer fans to seek better, alternate ways of enjoying the game.
Many soccer fans are skipping the pre-match, halftime and post-match analysis on FOX, and watching just the games themselves. And instead of listening to the commentators on FOX, they hit the mute button and sync up the free match commentary from BBC Radio 5 (unblock it with a VPN) with the visuals from FOX.
I’ve tried it a couple of times this week and the results are remarkable. It changes your complete experience of the tournament. Many of the voices you hear commentating all of the World Cup games on BBC Radio 5 are the same familiar ones that you hear on Premier League games on the world-feed from NBC Sports. The difference is extraordinary.
Better yet, stop watching FOX Sports entirely. Subscribe to Peacock Premium which has every World Cup game in Spanish-language, and sync up the audio from BBC Radio 5 Live. As we’ve seen in the viewing numbers for Peacock, who are crushing it with their World Cup coverage, language is no barrier.
Read between the lines
To defend themselves against any future criticism of FOX’s World Cup coverage, we can guarantee that FOX Sports executives will use TV ratings as proof that their World Cup coverage works. However, they always tout the viewing numbers for the US Men’s National Team or US Women’s National Team, which — of course — are going to be impressive.
It’s not that viewers are tuning into FOX because of their superior coverage. They’re watching FOX because the games are in English. They don’t realize there are other options to watching.
Lastly, if it’s any comfort, FOX Sports only have the rights to one more men’s World Cup. By that time, in 2026, hopefully many of us will be in the stadiums enjoying the games ourselves.
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