Tuesday was a big day for American soccer fans who are anticipating the plethora of international matches that are going to be coming their way this summer as both ESPN and Fox announced their commentary teams for their coverage of Euro 2016 and the Copa America respectively. Unsurprisingly to American fans, ESPN’s announcement was met with applause while Fox’s left something to be desired.
It’s no surprise that 2014 World Cup leading commentator Ian Darke will once again be the lead man for the World Wide Leader. Joining him on the number one team will be either his USMNT partner Taylor Twellman or his former EPL partner Steve McManaman. Darke has great chemistry with both guys so fans can expect a top quality broadcast no matter who is in the booth. ESPN’s number two team will be another 2014 World Cup team in Jon Champion and Stewart Robson, who American fans are also familiar with from their work in the Premier League.
As Fox stated a few years ago they would like to go in a different direction from ESPN and establish an American as the voice of soccer in America. With that in mind, Fox has named John Strong and Brad Friedel, who were the network’s number one team at last year’s Gold Cup, as the number one team for the Copa America. Their number two team will be JP Dellacamera, a very familiar voice to American fans as he’s been calling soccer games in this country for over 20 years and served as the network’s lead voice in the 2015 Women’s World Cup, along with former USMNT midfielder Stu Holden.
It’s obvious that both networks have different strategies for how they will present their soccer content, neither of which are wrong. ESPN will continue to go European heavy while Fox tries to bring in more American voices. Particularly when ESPN is doing a European tournament while Fox is doing a tournament featuring teams from the Americas.
So what puts ESPN ahead of Fox? Simple. Both networks have made mistakes in the past, but the difference is ESPN has shown that they can learn from their mistakes. Fox has not.
After being ridiculed for their very poor production of the 2006 World Cup, ESPN listened to the criticism. They responded by totally revamping their coverage for the 2010 edition, and when that got fantastic reviews they weren’t content. Rather they set out to build on that for 2014 and now for Euro 2016 since they do not have World Cup rights anymore. They’ve created some great broadcast teams for the past six years their international soccer coverage has been some of the best productions the network has produced.
American fans have always been skeptical of Fox’s soccer coverage. Back when they had the EPL rights, their poor coverage passed because we didn’t know any better. They were badly exposed when they took over the Champions League from ESPN and last years Women’s World Cup was set to be their first big test. They passed that test admirably and while some may say that’s because the bar was set so low by previous broadcasts they were vindicated by being nominated for several Sports Emmys.
Unfortunately Fox will once again subject us to the screaming Brad Friedel for the Copa America. I understand naming John Strong as the lead man over JP Dellacamera. JP may be a better play-by-play guy than Strong, but Strong is younger and Fox sees him as the future. Eventually he has to be given the number one job and that time seems to be now.
The issue is with Strong’s partner Brad Friedel. Friedel has been working for Fox since he was still at Tottenham, joining their studio team for Champions League broadcasts. Friedel is good in the studio but when he gets into the booth it’s a whole different story.
At this point Fox has been giving us a heavy doses of Friedel on their USMNT coverage for almost a year, and to be honest, he comes very close to making fans mute their TV. It’s one thing to say he’s just learning but after a year, Friedel is still making the same mistakes that he was making in his first broadcast, namely making it sound like he’s spending the entire broadcast yelling at the audience. These are things that should have been fixed long ago but haven’t. If he’s commentating on a non USMNT game where there’s only casual interest, hearing him makes me far less inclined to watch.
The sad part about all of this is that Fox could have easily avoided this since they have a much better analyst on their hands in Stu Holden. Holden hasn’t been commentating on games for as long as Friedel but through his work with Fox on the Europa League and Bundesliga he has already proven to be a much better commentator. He’s also a former USMNT player so he checks out on Fox’s desire to use American voices.
ESPN has set the gold standard for international soccer broadcasting mostly from listening to the criticism and learning from their mistakes. Fox has proven to be much more stubborn as they choose a direction and stick with it.
Let’s hope this doesn’t cost them in the long run.