Fox Sports and Telemundo cover World Cup 2022
Today we take a look at the USA broadcasting coverage of World Cup 2022 and in particular the tenor and quality of the comments expressed by announcers and in-studio analysts of the games at the Fox Sports and Telemundo networks.
The overall observation to be made is that on-air sports news media talent, from both networks, was able to make occasional comments that showed a level of insight into the sport that was missing in 2018, and that was heartening. FS1 and Telemundo staff, pointing out when a player or team has done something out of the ordinary was a common thread between the two choices USA audiences had to view the cup.
Whether marveling at the athleticism and total commitment of the South Koreans or the beauty of Brazil’s performance against them, or the sublime quality of Lionel Messi’s no-look assist against Holland, or Japan’s and Morocco’s perfect embodiment of their coach’s tactics, or Portugal’s breakout performance against the tough Swiss—that commentary, by their sports reporters on both networks, was spot-on. Unfortunately, those insights were the exception and not the norm.
The first thing we notice in the 2022 World Cup media coverage is that the sophistication of the Telemundo coverage has been head and shoulders above the Fox Sports team’s. Fox has a crew of folks left over from the last World Cup which they used for this one and then they repurposed a few of their routine Premier League and MLS staff for this tournament. Some of the latter staff were very good if too UK-or-MLS-centric in their perspective, but most of the former never were particularly gifted at their jobs.
Telemundo used folks who regularly cover international football writ large so they were familiar with the key players and teams at the cup and were able to report knowledgeably about them. Similarly, despite their bias in favor of Hispanic CONCACAF teams, CONMEBOL teams, and Spain, they managed to throw in a smattering of insights about other teams and players even during matches against those Hispanic squads.
Fox Sports decided to focus on being politically correct in their choice of announcers in regard to gender, race, and culture, but neglected to mix in a sufficient dosage of knowledge of the sport, objective reporting, and an attempt to curb the player, team, and career biases of their commentators. Similarly, the broadcaster was still stuck on the long-dead concept that USA viewers are predominantly not soccer savvy and must be provided with explanatory prompts and props, and constant comparisons to other US sports. Perhaps these were helpful to the play-by-play man John Strong who often seemed unable to come up with soccer-specific examples to illustrate a point and thus just as often had to turn to Holden for a translation of the other-sport-comment.
As he did in his coverage of World Cup 2018, Fox Sports’ Strong kept using the phrase “too tall” when a cross flew above the head of a player attempting to meet it, somehow not understanding the grammatical error or the impossibility of a ball possessing the physical traits of being short or tall. Strong also mispronounced players’ names on multiple play-by-play coverages. His partner, the one-time team USA player Stu Holden, could not have been more of a Lionel-Messi-and-Argentina-fan the entire cup. In full match coverages, when Holden would be prompted to analyze a passage by Strong, the ex-player was unable to give equal time to any team playing Argentina or any other player on the pitch when Messi was on it. Staff-mate Alexi Lalas had to puncture Holden’s bubble in a Third-Place match pre-game segment by saying that he was not “convinced the Argentina-France final” would end up being the “Messi coronation some think it will inevitably become.”
It was particularly galling to hear Strong speaking when his director chose to pan the stands where many an iconic past player was seated and the USA announcer would simply remain silent as the camera focused on a row of Brazilian greats such as Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Cafu, and Ronaldinho. Similarly, when European greats Lothar Matthaus, Oliver Khan, Carles Puyol, Andres Iniesta, and David Villa were on the screen Strong seemed to hesitate to identify them. Holden would come to the rescue but sometimes seemed to be unsure of what to say about a given player as if their World Cup resumes were not at the tip of his tongue.
Several Fox Sports female announcers and commentators clearly showed they had the soccer knowledge to do their jobs well, but unfortunately, a number, who were past women’s soccer players, also chose to provide anecdotes from their women’s soccer careers as examples alleged to be relevant to the men’s game when their chosen comparisons were wildly irrelevant or inappropriate. That did not help.
Similarly inappropriate was the network’s use of Landon Donovan. The ex-USMNT star, used for his recognizability, was an unfortunate choice for a commentator as he often fell silent for long stretches when commentary would have been helpful only to come to life at odd moments and alternate between being tongue-tied and babbling when he could not come up with a cogent insight.
Finally, two “segments” seemed to continue to populate the English-language World Cup broadcasts: the Olympics-infused-profiles, which on FS1 were at times so unctuous as to be useless in providing the “color context” they were supposed to offer, and the mix of cultural insight and Qatar glorifying pieces that posed as color commentary about the cup but were transparently agenda-driven and self-serving.
Telemundo still works on the assumption that men watching soccer need the added diversion of sexily clad women announcers who stand and move, rather than sit, on center stage and in minidresses or other tight clothing, and offer little else in terms of covering the sport. The Spanish broadcaster may have a bead on men’s libidos and quite a few European and South American broadcasters feel this practice adds to the flavor of their coverage, and perhaps for some it does, but maybe their network weather girl franchise should remain the venue for that type of offering or such segments could be added at the very end of the post-match reviews as a means of transitioning from soccer to other aspects of life.
In another nod to provincialism, Telemundo managed to infuse a segment commenting on the goings-on of the Third Place match with a four-minute vignette celebrating the birthday of one of its sports anchors replete with minute-long video salutes from immediate and extended family, co-anchors not participating in that given broadcast, and friends, while continually panning to the anchor’s reaction to the commentary, as if the rest of us were so invested in his anniversary.
It was also sad that the guest announcers Telemundo occasionally used were often so unapologetically one-sided that the commentators from Argentina and Central America, for example, could not speak of any faults any of the South or Central American teams might have had any more than the Spanish guests could say that Luis Enrique had chosen a dangerously idiosyncratic lineup for a given match.
The most glaring similarity between the announcers and commentators from both broadcasters, though, was their obvious bias for or against given teams. The Fox Sports British announcers could not bring themselves to be objective about Southgate’s lads any more than the USA announcers could report on team USA’s many issues. Andres Cantor, the Argentine play-by-play man for Telemundo, told us he was “unable to see” Uruguayan defender Jose Maria Gimenez’s hand ball in the penalty area in the match against Portugal, despite the fact that his own broadcast showed multiple-angle, slow-motion views of exactly how Gimenez purposely modified the trajectory of the ball with his hand away from the opponent vying for its control with him.
Both networks made cringing use of their captive audience advertising ensuring in FS1’s case that an ad was inserted between when the players took their positions on the pitch after the anthems and when the referee blew his whistle, usually announcing that they were about to cut to a minute-long commercial and returning when the PA’s ten-second countdown to the match’s start was past “six.”
In short, the Fox Sports coverage was as unsophisticated and blandly average as the Telemundo one was savvy but one-sided. Both networks took full advantage of being the only World Cup show in town to clobber us with myriad advertising, only some of which had been created specifically for the cup. Some of those tailored spots were actually good if too often repeated.
Given the increasingly growing popularity of the sport in the USA, one can only hope that our networks will invest a bit more time, money, and effort in putting together higher caliber broadcast productions staffed with equally superior play-by-play announcers and commentators and also better pre, post, and halftime reviewers. It would also benefit each network’s broadcast if they could find guest commentators who could balance the bias already on display by their regular reporters. In that manner, the two broadcasters would be showing their viewers that their networks are up to the task of covering the greatest sporting event in the world.
Photo: Fox Sports on smartphone, Shutterstock ID 1756776596, by rafapress.