06 February 2013

Gus Johnson to call soccer for FOX

Maybe this video was a premonition? Who knows but the big news yesterday was the report by the great Richard Deitsch that FOX Sports was grooming Gus Johnson to be the voice of the World Cup when FOX airs the 2018 World Cup in Russia by having him call a variety of international soccer matches over the next several years, including the FA Cup Final and the Champions League Final in May. Johnson, best known for his extraordinarily excitable commentary from his days covering March Madness among other sports for CBS, has moonlighted doing radio for the San Jose Earthquakes last summer. Here are my thoughts on the move.

I could see why FOX would want to use one of their high-profile announcers to lead their coverage of their soccer matches because as many have said, you need to have a trademark American broadcaster for the sport. The announcers that ESPN used, to rave reviews, during the 2010 World Cup hailed from across the pond and their lead announcer, Ian Darke, as well as NBC's lead soccer broadcaster Arlo White, are both British. Personally, I don't have a problem with where the announcers come from but I see the reasoning behind that statement, particularly to help grow the sport among those dreaded casual fans. And FOX's strategy of having Johnson call a variety of international matches over the next several years and not give him a baptism by fire come 2018.

But there is certainly a great risk that comes with this decision. Let's not forget when ESPN made their lead announcer for the 2006 World Cup Dave O'Brien, a pretty good basketball and baseball announcer who had no experience calling soccer before, and it ended up as a disaster due to O'Brien not being completely comfortable with the game and him getting awful reviews, leading to many folks watching the games on Univision. Again, it is a good thing that Johnson will be calling a bunch of matches and has worked some radio so he will not be thrown to the wolves like O'Brien, but it is not a simple transition to calling soccer coming from other sports.

And I'm not loving this move because of Johnson, himself, who I feel, as Will Leitsch noted a year ago, has become a caricature of himself due to his increased fame for being excitable to where his announcing simply relies on screaming and the rest of the game becomes a mess as he waits to rely on his shtick. I used to greatly enjoy Johnson calling a great basketball finish, I've never been a fan of him on football at all, but I find him to be forcing himself to make the game exciting. And thus, I'm not that sold at all on him doing some soccer.

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