Sports

Fox’s subpar coverage of 2018 World Cup leaves many fans upset

With the coronation of the France national football team as winners of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, there was a sense of loss and emptiness that the quadrennial summer carnival was coming to
an end.

However, a lot of soccer viewers in the United States might feel relieved that it was finally the end of the mediocre-at-best Fox Sports broadcast of the most popular sports event in the world. Some, though, might miss the coverage provided on the written press and audio platforms.

For an average soccer content consumer using multiple media platforms, there is little to no point in watching the shoulder coverage of the World Cup matches on Fox. Podcasts, such as the popular Totally Football Show and Football Weekly can fill fans in, aside from the actual footage of the matches — which Fox Sports did not show anyway — that provided fans with all of the needed information.

The podcasts have guests analyzing games in studio and journalists on the ground phoning in to the podcast to talk about games and goings-on in Russia.

In an episode of the Totally Football Show, journalist Sasha Goryunov told listeners about the history of Kaliningrad, one of the Russian host cities.

Though Kaliningrad was similarly razed as Gdansk, Poland, was by the Royal Air Force in World War II, the city did not experience the prosperity and recovery made at the Polish city because the Soviet Union felt that Kaliningrad, — formerly known as Königsberg and the birthplace of philosopher Immanuel Kant — was where the Prussian militarism originated.

If one reads the newspaper, whether digital or in print, the stories featured are much more interesting than incessant repeats of similar talking points on American TV.

For example, in The New York Times, one can read about the residents contemplating the history of Volgograd and the debate about its name and identity, the potential nationalistic meaning behind the double-eagle symbol celebration made by Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka after scoring their goals and how the Mexican team captain’s travel arrangement and equipment preparation were slightly complicated by his appearance on the U.S. Justice Department’s blacklist.

Those stories would remind the soccer audience that the sport, like any other, was very much intertwined with politics, that sports were never purely an athletic competition between trained participants that would end in one basking in “the thrill of victory” and the other drowning in the “agony of defeat.”

Fox Sports, however, steered clear of any topics related to politics, including Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. and French presidential elections and Russia’s human rights record.

In the realm of soccer politics, the U.S. broadcasters had no detailed discussions about the dubious process of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup and did not raise the ethical issues that still existed in FIFA after ousting several corrupted executive committee members, a Justice Department investigation and FIFA President Gianni Infantino firing the chairman of his own governance committee.

It might be hard for a rights holder to make those editorial choices, but that never stopped Bob Ley from broaching political and sports governance issues on ESPN when it had the rights of the
World Cup.

Richard Deitsch, the media reporter at The Athletic, noted that Fox Sports should “think about bringing in a rotation of soccer journalists into the studio to augment on-air talent” for future tournaments, especially on late-night shows.

Fernando Fiore, the original sole host and, later, the co-host of the nightly show World Cup Tonight, said on the Planet Futbol podcast that he wanted to make sports fun. That’s well-intentioned, but the absence of seriousness on the show in the beginning and the lack of tactical analysis was an “insult to diehard soccer viewers.”

NBC Sports has been the Premier League rightsholder since the 2013-2014 season. Fox’s failure — especially after the jubilant social media reaction when it lost the Champions League rights to Turner Sports — to learn from NBC Sports was disappointing.

Although many reporters appeared on the Fox telecast to talk about the specific teams they were covering, two to three minutes seemed to be the maximum airtime they had.

It’s jarring to see ESPN — which had just lost broadcasting rights — use journalists based in Russia like Julien Laurens, Sam Borden and Gabriele Marcotti just to talk about games they’ve covered in person in multiple segments on Outside the Lines and ESPN FC.

However, it is not the first time that the aforementioned criticisms were offered toward Fox’s soccer coverage.

Back in the beginning of the decade, Fox had already started on its insistence on hiring American voices and used Gus Johnson for the lead voice on its Champions League telecast, only to receive complaints over the choice.

This time, with the absence of the U.S. men’s national team from the World Cup, Fox still paired three all-American commentary teams and left two of the better partnerships back in Los Angeles, though Derek Rae and Aly Wagner did go to Russia after the group stage.

Fox Sports, after pouring so much money into receiving the World Cup rights, could not learn from ITV’s employment of Gary Neville, the highly respected pundit on Sky Sports, and hire the duty-free Jamie Carragher, who is a diligent and insightful analyst on the same network.

Fox Sports could have borrowed media programing strategies from so many broadcasters around
the world.

September 3, 2018

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Wen Xi Chen


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