ESPN’s Euro 2016 Preview, which aired Thursday night on the main ESPN network, reminded English-language dominant American viewers what a top serious soccer production looks like around a major international tournament. ESPN’s serious preview involved no less than a dozen commentators on site in Paris, a mixture of analysts from different countries and backgrounds as well as an intertwining of news that might impact the tournament with contributions from ABC. Plus there were human interest stories and hard analysis pieces that were in direct contrast to the level of production being offered by FOX Sports during the Copa America Centenario tournament.
Near the top of the list of FOX Sports’ failings during the Copa America Centenario is the brash Copa Tonight show. Airing inconsistently in the early morning hours on the east coast, the LA-based program is more entertainment and attempted comedy than true soccer analysis. Fernando Fiore hosts the program, which started strong on the first night of the Copa, but has descended toward farcical levels since.
On the opening night of the program, the show’s panel of Fiore, Alexi Lalas, Aly Wagner and Stu Holden brought strong points about the USA-Colombia game to the broadcast. The moment of the night came when Lalas, in response to Geoff Cameron’s rather absurd claim that the US had essentially gone toe-to-toe with the Colombians, said “I don’t know what game he was watching.” It was a great line delivered with the type of gusto Lalas is capable of. And from my vantage point, it was a spot on reflection of the game based on the denial permeating through the US Men’s National Team ranks as to the performance itself.
As the first show wore on though, the mood became lighter and Fiore began pushing Lalas’ buttons. That tenor has continued on the nights the program actually airs. A major problem with the show is that it often times doesn’t air at all. Unlike ESPN whose number of channels allows the nightly ESPNFC program to air someplace irrespective of other sporting events, Copa Tonight has been bumped from the lineup on multiple occasions.
The program itself is very light on highlights and analysis. Most of the clips tend to be of goals or controversial moments, but with just two games a day in Copa America, the opportunity for extended highlights in the NBC Match of the Day style or real hard-hitting analysis as ESPNFC host Dan Thomas prompts the talent to provide about big matches is severely lacking.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 8, 2016
While highlights are shown and some basic match analysis is provided, Copa Tonight is far less than what Univision offers. And in some cases, it’s less in terms of analysis than what ESPNFC is offering though that program’s focus is currently on the Euros and transfers between European club sides. In terms of the US Men’s National Team, the former national team duo of Brian McBride and Kasey Keller have given deeper and harder-hitting analysis on ESPNFC than FOX’s team has.
The Copa Tonight show is also missing Eric Wynalda, one of FOX Sports’ bright stars whose ability to mix things up and unwillingness to protect interests in US Soccer make him a refreshing listen on topics related to the game in this country. For whatever reason, Wynalda has been relegated to co-commentating matches during this competition.
Both Holden and Wagner have had their moments of strong analysis. But all too often, the show is reduced to some degree of controversy or seemingly contrived fighting between Lalas and Fiore. The show also suffers from FOX’s loud graphics, over-production and general tenor away from serious sports programming toward a mixture of comedy and highlights. The continued use of yellow and red cards by Fiore toward his co-commentators is annoying and silly.
In their own elements, Fiore, Lalas, Wagner and Holden provide strong analysis and an excellent presence. But the mixture of the four combined with odd timings of the program, lack of analysis and clownish presentations associated with the program make it a failure. As eyes drift toward the Euro 2016 tournament and ESPN’s production of that tournament, American viewers will get a stark reminder of how studio programs should be produced around major tournaments.
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