The first several days of Group Stage action at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar has been engulfed in controversy off-the-pitch but has also delivered some incredibly compelling action on-the-pitch. When it comes to FOX and Telemundo’s World Cup coverage, it’s been a mix of good and bad so far.
US rights-holders FOX Sports (English) and Telemundo Deportes (Spanish) have taken different approaches to the presentation of the competition. Both broadcasters have strengths and weaknesses we’ve seen thus far in the tournament through eight matches.
FOX Sports’ coverage of World Cup 2022
Let’s start with English-language broadcaster FOX Sports. Despite intense coverage of the controversies connected with Qatar and FIFA from US-based media outlets ranging from ESPN to Netflix and the New York Times, FOX has made the editorial decision to ignore these controversies.
That is all good and well and can be defended as keeping the sport and competition in focus. However, FOX’s decision to spend much of its 90 minute pregame program on Sunday promoting Qatar left a very bad taste in the mouths of many. Rob Stone and Alexi Lalas were so over the top in their faux enthusiasm for Qatar that it appeared they were either “working” for the Qatari government or tourism board.
Stone, who was isolated due to COVID two weeks ago, has not appeared on the FOX since the pre-match coverage of Qatar-Ecuador. He’s been replaced by Jenny Taft, Kate Ad and Tom Rinaldi – all doing a credible job. Taft, in particular, has proven smooth and sharp as a presenter.
Lalas has stood out among studio commentators for his willingness to challenge conventional norms and give some useful defensive tactical analysis. His break-down of Saudi Arabia’s defensive solidity and strategy in their stunning 2-1 upset of Argentina was a high point for FOX’s coverage. Eni Aluko has continued her strong performances in past tournaments both on UK and US television with some excellent analysis for FOX.
Assessment of FOX’s World Cup commentators
Similarly that match, which was called by JP Dellacamera and Cobi Jones, highlighted how well FOX can do with commentary when something epic or unexpected is happening. Dr. Joe Machnik and Mark Clattenburg chiming in with rules interpretations has been timely, especially during the Argentina-Saudi Arabia match where close offside decisions were a major talking point. Similarly the team of Jaqui Oatley and Warren Barton were excellent. And Barton, who we’ve criticized in the past, has grown immensely as a co-commentator.
On Monday, Ian Darke and John Strong called the biggest matches of the day for FOX. Both commentators have a talkative style, and are flanked by co-commentators in Landon Donovan and Stu Holden respectively who are very tactically savvy in their analysis. This has led to a good conversational style in the booth and some interesting discussions between the pairings.
The standout of FOX’s coverage thus far from my vantage point has been Clint Dempsey. We’ve become accustomed to him on CBS Sports, where he has brought an attitude and willingness to speak with hyperbole to the set. The “soccer dude,” as I dub him, has been a stroke of lighting in a bottle for FOX, and is growing ever more comfortable as an on-camera presence as his broadcasting career continues to develop.
FOX’s production issues
While FOX’s commentary teams and presenters have been solid, the production quality of the broadcasts have been shaky at times. FOX returned late to the Denmark-Tunisia match from halftime, and after the same match concluded they had an abrupt shift to a show about the NFL on FS1.
Later on Tuesday, on the FOX network, we got a blank screen following the full time whistle of Poland-Mexico.
We have also had a few clunky transitions from match to studio, but that can always be expected early in a major tournament.
These production snafus have unfortunately been a long-term problem with FOX’s coverage of this sport, and while the commentary and presentation of the tournament is miles ahead of where it was at Russia 2018, FOX remains far less crisp in how they produce matches and tournaments than their predecessor ESPN was.
What makes FOX Sports different
FOX seems to have leveraged the full media network still under the News Corp umbrella to promote their coverage. This was not the case in 2018, nor was it ever the case when ESPN and ABC televised previous World Cups. While Disney tooled its sports division to promoting the World Cup, they never did quite what FOX has this time in terms of pushing the World Cup into mainstream primetime television and every other sporting property FOX airs.
The other major talking point about FOX is their obsession with Americanizing soccer coverage. While this does not fit my personal preferences as a more cosmopolitan fan of the sport, the reality is this. FOX is trying to attract casual sports and doing a good job of it. The over-emphasis on the US Men’s National Team, while annoying and somewhat patronizing given the lack of focus on the US’ opposition in the opening match, is what the audience wants. This is despite, however, skewed and delusional the analysis may sound to more seasoned soccer fans.
Telemundo’s coverage of World Cup 2022
FOX faces unprecedented competition for World Cup viewers this go-round. Not only is the World Cup being played in the winter, thus competing with American football and the holiday season as well, in addition to NBCUniversal’s efforts to promote their Spanish language broadcasts among core soccer fans who may have a dissatisfaction with the way FOX presents the tournament.
Telemundo Deportes began its coverage Sunday with a different approach. They went directly at the controversies related to Qatar, and even addressed the controversy about Ecuador’s qualification for the competition. Telemundo’s coverage has been solid, with the usual colorful presentation we expect. For the broadcaster though, the tournament’s first two days was one big build up in hype to Mexico’s opener against Poland, with Telemundo very much treating Mexico the way FOX treats the US.
A refreshing element of Telemundo’s coverage was an extensive feature on Wales, qualifying for their first World Cup since 1958. This included an interview with Tottenham legend Cliff Jones, now 87 years old who was part of that Wales 1958 squad. This is the sort of feature I’d have loved to see on FOX or even on ESPNFC’s shoulder programming around the World Cup.
Why Peacock is enticing to many soccer fans
The linear coverage on Telemundo is one piece of NBCUniversal’s attempts to win over English-language dominant hard-core soccer fan. But perhaps more importantly is the effort to migrate viewers who are accustomed to watching the Premier League on Peacock to the Telemundo coverage streaming in Peacock.
Watching Peacock for the World Cup allows you to see one continuous stream of matches, unlike what the streaming service does for the Premier League, and the quality of picture at least for me is superior to linear Telemundo or FOX either on linear or streaming. Much like the Premier League broadcasts, if you tune in late on Peacock, you have the option of reviewing key plays in the match to that point in time.
The only drawback of watching Peacock is that the stream tends to fall behind the linear coverage by as much as forty seconds in my experience thus far. If you can take missing the moment at the very second it happens, then Peacock offers a really handy, streaming option.
Thus far into the World Cup, the premier sporting event on the globe has a bigger footprint in the US than ever before thanks to the competition between FOX and NBCUniversal as well as some serious upgrades to coverage and promotion.
Feel free to share your feedback about FOX and Telemundo’s World Cup coverage; post your messages in the comments section below.
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