In 2014, the World Cup set a United States television record as over 26 million viewers watched the final match between Germany and Argentina. But that was on ESPN. A month before ESPN handled their final World Cup, for at least the next 12 years, Fox Sports and FIFA announced that they had made a $425 million deal for the rights to all FIFA events.
Now, having just been awarded the rights for the 2026 World Cup as well, many loyal soccer fans around the country and world have been left wondering if Eric Shanks and Fox Sports can handle an event that ESPN has been so successful with over the years.
The President, COO and Executive Producer at Fox Sports, Eric Shanks, has been pivotal in Fox’s acquisition of the World Cup rights for the coming years. Shanks said in an interview around the time that Fox acquired the rights that “The time is now (for soccer). This country, if you kick a ball your ratings are up 25 percent to 50 percent… (there’s) a lot of reasons for it. Access to great international competitions, the growth of our domestic league, the success of the U.S. team.”
Soccer fans around the world are wondering if Fox Sports can broadcast the World Cup in ways that appeal to all fans of the game, not just fans of the United States team.
Fox Sports will have a chance to showcase their soccer coverage later in the year when they take on the 2015 Women’s World Cup. As you can see in the commercial below, Fox has already taken the U.S. first approach to this momentous event. However, with the U.S. Women’s team coming off an Olympic gold medal in 2012, the hype and extra coverage of that team may be justified.
Christopher Harris at World Soccer Talk expressed his and fellow soccer fans’ concerns in an article released the Wednesday after ESPN wrapped up their 2014 World Cup coverage. Having produced multiple UEFA Champions League matches, soccer fans have experienced what Fox Sports has in store for the future.
“The level of confidence among soccer fans and critics regarding FOX’s soccer coverage is at an all-time low,” Harris said. “Fox Sports continues to ignore soccer fans, treats viewers with a lack of respect and employs talent who are not qualified to be on the airwaves.”
Fox Sports and Shanks handed the play-by-play broadcasting reins to former NCAA tournament announcer Gus Johnson in 2013. But after hearing fans voice their concerns about Johnson’s inexperience with the game of soccer, Shanks announced in 2014 that Johnson would be stepping down as their top soccer commentator to focus on college football and basketball.
But with top commentators Martin Tyler and Ian Darke over at ESPN, Shanks is still in the process of finding and securing top talent for the 2018 World Cup. Soccer fans are concerned that Fox Sports will put too much emphasis on the U.S. team and not highlight the World’s top teams as well as they should.
Despite the concern from soccer fans about the lack of quality talent at Fox Sports as well as too much coverage of the U.S. teams, Shanks has experience with coming up with new and innovative ways to broadcast sporting events. Shanks helped develop FOXTrax, a way to help viewers to follow the puck during hockey games, as well as the yellow first-down line that fans have become accustomed to seeing during football games.
But what types of advancements can Shanks come up with for soccer coverage at Fox without ruining the classic feel of the game that soccer fans crave? Do you think Fox Sports can secure enough quality talent for their World Cup coverage? Can Shanks come up with innovative broadcasting techniques that can help separate Fox Sports from ESPN in terms of soccer broadcasting?
Leave your comments below or your suggestions of who Fox Sports should get to enhance their coverage of one of the World’s largest sporting events.
– Riley Ubben