After some pregame rough spots, Fox’s first network broadcast of soccer’s UEFA Champions League final on May 22 came off well, thanks in part to a couple of borrowed broadcasters. Smartly deciding to take an international feed for the Inter Milan-Bayern Munich match featuring the fantastic pairing of Martin Tyler (who now shifts to ESPN for the World Cup) and Andy Gray, the broadcast was mostly worthy of the massive affair it is.
Tyler’s call was top-notch as always, leaving soccer fans looking forward to finally having a worthy lead voice on ESPN for the World Cup that begins in South Africa in just a few weeks. He never tries to outshine the match he is calling and rarely makes mistakes, though he did neglect to tell viewers that Bayern Munich’s Thomas Muller is of no relation to legendary German star Gerd Muller when comparing the two players at a moment that called out for that piece of information.
Taking the international feed did leave one major aspect of the broadcast disappointing, as I believe Fox Sports would have known that at the final whistle, the shot viewers should have seen was the reaction of Inter Milan manager Jose Mourinho, by far the most dynamic character involved in these proceedings. The international feed didn’t find the outspoken coach until too late.
Fox did, however, use its own talent for an on-site studio show, reflecting the company’s (which also runs three soccer-centric networks) commitment to the sport. The set was decidedly spartan (three folding chairs sandwiched by a couple vertical banners), but having the talent on site in the stadium in Madrid more than made up for it.
Fox’s NFL mainstay Curt Menefee hosted the pre-game, halftime and post-game show, and was strong as usual, noteworthy in this foreign territory (literally and figuratively). His pronunciations were solid, and as always, he understood his role as a traffic cop (though one note, Curt: It’s okay to say “field” instead of “pitch”–you didn’t need to correct yourself on-air). But full marks to Menefee for predicting the 2-0 to Inter scoreline.
For those of you tracking sponsor elements, Geico (pre-game) and Gillette (post-game) each got verbal and graphic mentions, as well as a banner next to Menefee, while halftime sponsor Heineken got verbal plugs and on-air graphics, but no banner.
One of the studio analysts was current Los Angeles Galaxy and former U.S. National Team coach Bruce Arena, who brought intelligent tactical analysis and depth to the show, boasting a pedigree that included guiding an underdog American team to a magical World Cup run in 2002.
He was joined by former U.S. National Team forward Eric Wynalda, who also brought an impressive background including a memorable goal for an earlier underdog group of Americans, this time at the Pontiac Silverdome against Switzerland in the 1994 World Cup.
But on air, Wynalda left a bit more to be desired. He opened the show by calling this match the “Super Bowl” of the sport, after which Arena thankfully quickly reminded him of that small affair called the World Cup. Wynalda also praised the referees following the match, even though a blown call in the first half (a blatant handball in the penalty area) may have altered the outcome of the contest.
Unfortunately, the pre-game show was woefully below the level of what was deserved for this massive affair, and below the usual standards of Fox Sports, thanks to two noticeable mistakes off the top. The worst was when the announcers went to talk through the Bayern Munich starting lineup, and the graphic failed to show up on screen. That is Production 101 and should never happen from an elite outfit like Fox Sports in a gigantic event like a Champions League final. The other mistake was an audio miscue following the Champions League anthem that was less abrasive, but no less disappointing.
An extended post-game was what the event deserved, and while Fox Sports had no access to interviews, viewers got to see the entire trophy presentation and some wonderful live video from the wild streets full of celebrating supporters in Milan.
The only other surprise was the lack of more promotion for Fox’s soccer networks (Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Soccer Plus and Fox Sports En Espanol), though that may have been partly based on an assumption that anyone watching this match knows where to find those networks and less on an oversight.
Overall, an impressive rookie outing for Fox, and a reminder of what soccer fans have to look forward to on the Disney networks beginning in a few weeks.