The opening days of the group stage at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar have been fraught with controversy off the pitch, but have also delivered incredibly riveting action on the pitch. So far, when it comes to FOX and Telemundo’s World Cup coverage, it’s been a mix of good and bad.
US rights holders FOX Sports (English) and Telemundo Deportes (Spanish) have taken different approaches in presenting the competition. Both stations have strengths and weaknesses that we’ve seen in eight games so far in the tournament.
FOX Sports coverage of the 2022 World Cup
Let’s start with the English language channel FOX Sports. Despite intense coverage of the Qatar-FIFA controversies by US-based media from ESPN to Netflix and the US New York TimesFOX made the editorial choice to ignore these controversies.
That’s all well and good and can be defended by keeping the sport and the competition in focus. However, FOX’s decision to promote Qatar for much of its 90-minute pregame program on Sunday left many in very bad taste. Rob Stone and Alexi Lalas were so over the top in their false enthusiasm for Qatar that it appeared they were either “working” for the Qatari government or the tourism board.
Stone, who was isolated two weeks ago due to COVID, has not appeared on FOX since the Qatar-Ecuador pre-game coverage. He’s been replaced by Jenny Taft, Kate Ad and Tom Rinaldi – all doing a credible job. Taft, in particular, has proven to be smooth and sharp as a moderator.
Lalas has stood out among studio commentators for his willingness to challenge conventional norms and provide some useful defensive tactical analysis. His breakdown of Saudi Arabia’s defensive solidity and strategy in a stunning 2-1 win over Argentina was a highlight of FOX’s coverage. Eni Aluko has continued her strong performances in past tournaments on both UK and US television with some excellent analysis for FOX.
Assessment of the World Cup commentators from FOX
Similarly, this match, called out by JP Dellacamera and Cobi Jones, showed FOX’s ability to handle comments when something epic or unexpected is happening. dr Joe Machnik and Mark Clattenburg, who intervened with rule interpretations, came at the right time, especially during the game between Argentina and Saudi Arabia where narrow offside decisions were a major topic of conversation. Equally outstanding was the team of Jaqui Oatley and Warren Barton. And Barton, who we’ve criticized in the past, has grown tremendously as a co-commentator.
On Monday, Ian Darke and John Strong scheduled the biggest matches of the day for FOX. Both commentators have a chatty style and are flanked by co-commentators in Landon Donovan and Stu Holden respectively, who are very tactical in their analysis. This led to a good conversational style at the booth and some interesting discussions between pairings.
In my view, Clint Dempsey has been the standout in FOX’s coverage to date. We’ve grown accustomed to him at CBS Sports, where he’s brought an attitude and willingness to speak to set with exaggeration. The “football guy,” as I call him, was a bright spot in a bottle for FOX, and is becoming more comfortable as an on-camera presence as his broadcasting career evolves.
FOX production problems
While FOX’s commentary teams and presenters were solid, the production quality of the shows was shaky at times. FOX returned late from halftime to the Denmark v Tunisia game and after that same game was over they abruptly switched to a show about the NFL on FS1.
Later Tuesday we got a blank screen on the FOX network after the Poland-Mexico final whistle.
We also had some clunky transitions from game to studio, but that’s always to be expected early in a big tournament.
Unfortunately, these production errors have been a long-term problem with FOX’s coverage of the sport, and while the tournament’s commentary and presentation is miles ahead of what it was at Russia 2018, FOX remains far less clear on the way they play and produce tournaments than its predecessor was ESPN.
What FOX Sports is doing differently
FOX seems to have used the entire media network while still under the News Corp umbrella to promote their coverage. That wasn’t the case in 2018, and it never was when ESPN and ABC televised previous World Cups. While Disney geared up its sports division to promote the Worlds, they never quite did what FOX did this time, bringing the Worlds to mainstream primetime television and all of FOX’s other sports programming.
The other big talking point on FOX is their obsession with Americanizing football coverage. While this doesn’t reflect my personal preferences as a more cosmopolitan fan of the sport, it’s the reality. FOX is trying to attract casual sports and is doing a good job. While annoying and somewhat patronizing given the lack of focus on the US opposition in the opening game, the overemphasis on the US men’s national team is exactly what audiences want. However, this is true, although the analysis may sound distorted and delusional to more experienced football fans.
Telemundo’s coverage of the 2022 World Cup
FOX faces unprecedented competition for Worlds viewership this round. The World Cup isn’t just played during the winter, competing with American football and the holiday season as well, in addition to NBCUniversal’s efforts to promote its Spanish-language broadcasts to die-hard football fans who may be unhappy with the way FOX is presenting the tournament .
Telemundo Deportes began its coverage on Sunday with a different approach. They addressed the Qatar-related controversies head-on, even addressing the controversy over Ecuador’s qualification for the competition. Telemundo’s coverage was solid, with the usual colorful presentation we’ve come to expect. For the broadcaster, however, the first two days of the tournament saw a lot of hype surrounding Mexico’s opener against Poland, with Telemundo treating Mexico very much like FOX treats the USA.
A refreshing element of Telemundo’s coverage was Wales qualifying for their first World Cup since 1958. This included an interview with Tottenham legend Cliff Jones, who is now 87 and was part of the Wales squad from 1958. This is the type of feature I would have loved to see on FOX or even ESPNFC’s shoulder program around the World Cup.
Why Peacock seduces many football fans
Telemundo’s linear coverage is part of NBCUniversal’s attempt to win over the hardcore English-speaking football fan. But perhaps even more important is the effort to switch viewers used to watching the Premier League on Peacock to the Telemundo coverage streamed in Peacock.
Watching Peacock for the World Cup allows you to watch a continuous stream of matches, unlike what the streaming service does for the Premier League, and the picture quality is superior to the linear Telemundo or FOX, either linear or, at least for me streamed. Much like Premier League broadcasts, tuning in to Peacock late gives you a chance to review the game’s key plays up to that point.
The only downside to watching Peacock is that in my experience so far, the stream lags up to forty seconds behind linear reporting. If you can miss the moment the second it happens, Peacock offers a really handy streaming option.
Thanks to competition between FOX and NBCUniversal, along with some serious improvements in coverage and advertising, the world’s number one sporting event has a bigger presence in the US than ever before in the World Cup.
Feel free to share your feedback on FOX and Telemundo’s World Cup coverage; Post your messages in the comments section below.
Guide to the 2022 World Cup
Here are some resources to help you get the most out of football’s biggest event!