07 July 2015

With 2015 Women's World Cup, Fox Soccer takes step in right direction

(Fox)
In the wake of seizing the FIFA reins from the much-celebrated coverage by ESPN, as well as criticism of their own soccer coverage in the past, Fox Sports was going to given a close examination with this year's Women's World Cup in Canada. And while they are not quite at ESPN's level quite just yet, they are not that far off and it was a very good showing from them this summer.

Remember, it was only a year ago that Gus Johnson was still slated to be the lead face of Fox's soccer coverage. That alone gave a lot of soccer fans, a notoriously fickle group regarding announcers, a lot of pause about Fox's coverage. It is safe to say that fans were not that fond of the lead broadcast team of Johnson and Eric Wynalda.

Well the Johnson experiment came to an end last September and Fox's lead announcer for the Women's World Cup became JP Dellacamera. Given that Dellacamera has been one of the long-time faces of soccer announcing over the years, and happens to be pretty good, it certainly was a step in the right direction and Dellacamera did a fine job this past month. He was a little understated at times and that made sense given that he was working in a three-man booth alongside Cat Whitehill and Tony DiCicco.

Whitehill impressed during the 2011 Women's World Cup and she did a very solid job on the lead broadcast team. What I liked about her work was that unlike Julie Foudy in 2011 or Brandi Chastain at the 2012 Summer Olympics, she was not an unabashed homer at times for the USWNT. I think she could have been the sole analyst given that while DiCicco has a big personality and likes to talk, I thought he was underwhelming.

The remaining broadcast teams were pretty good in my opinion. Save for a missed call of the heartbreaking England own goal in the semifinal, I really enjoyed the work from Jenn Hildreth, who I had only known as a sideline report, and Kynda de St. Aubin. Justin Kutcher is more known for doing the traditional stick-and-ball sports but I thought he did a solid job on the play-by-play and his partner, Aly Wagner, was excellent in her own right. John Strong is quickly showing himself to be one of the top soccer announcers in the country and he made for a good team with Danielle Slaton. Unfortunately, I did not see a great deal of the Glenn Davis-Christine Latham team so I can't adequately analyze them.

Fox's studio coverage got off to a bit of a rough start in the wake of a damning ESPN report on US goalie Hope Solo and her 2014 domestic violence arrest. Fox's panel of analysts largely, but not exclusively, regrettably tried to brush the issue aside or act like it was old news. Given that Fox's analyst stable was largely dominated by former members of the USWNT or the USMNT, maybe the lack of legitimate criticism should not be surprising but it still was disappointing to see and they deservedly saw criticism for it (with some more hyperbolic than others).

However over the course the tournament, the studio show greatly improved from that low point. Rob Stone continued to show himself as a rock solid studio host and did a fine job juggling four analysts (one analyst too many in my opinion). Fox seemed to find a groove of sorts with a crew of Stone-Kelly Smith-Alexi Lalas-Heather Mitts-Ariane Hingst. Of those four, I thought both Smith and Hingst were the two best. I have grown to enjoy Lalas but it seemed like at times he was struggling to find the sparring partner that he needs to really get going. Mitts was little more than a US cheerleader early on but she did a better job over the course of the tournament and was a little more critical but in the end, she was the weakest link.

Fox followed ESPN in having a looser late night recap show and I think it worked for ESPN last year and I liked it this year for Fox. Kate Abdo from Sky Sports did a terrific job as the host and I would like to see more from her on Fox's future soccer coverage. Monica Gonzalez stood out from the pack on the analysis point and I think she should have had a bigger role on the main studio program. Angela Hucles probably was the best former USWNT player turned analyst on Fox's studio side and certainly was better than Leslie Osborne, who was underwhelming to me. We could go on and on about the immortal Wynalda and I'm certainly no big fan of his but he was passable in the looser format.

In the end, the ratings were extraordinary with the final becoming the most-watched soccer match in America of all-time. Fox threw a tremendous amount of resources and attention towards the Women's World Cup and it paid off big-time (I guess women's sports are worth watching after all). And as for the coverage itself, Fox did a better job than many folks thought it would be a year ago. Frankly, it should help give soccer fans some relief when the World Cup comes around from Russia in 2018.

2 comments:

  1. I see BIG problems with Fox Soccer coverage for 2022 World Cup in Qatar as it will be right during NFL on Fox season..... could Fox part ways with the NFL? The same league that started Fox as a mainstream network?

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    1. Knowing that this is a completely ridiculous comment, I'll answer. Fox's contract goes through 2022 for the NFL so there's that. You'll see most of those games on FS1, some FS2 action and Fox where it fits on weekdays and maybe weekends.

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