Rob Stone joins the podcast again this week. He will be anchoring FS1’s coverage of the World Cup qualifier match between USA and Mexico, beginning at 7pm ET Friday night.
We started out by discussing the implications of the game, and the pronounced home field advantage that the USMNT has had in Columbus in the four dos a cero games. We also talked about the potential impact of Christian Pulisic, what it means for Tim Howard to be back in goal, and which players on Mexico to keep an eye out for. (After soccer, we also spent about 10 minutes talking about the contemporary WWE product.)
At the 15-minute mark, we had this exchange:
RG: Amongst people who are very into soccer, I think there is a little bit of trepidation with the World Cup moving away from ESPN, because there was the impression that they did a really good job. This isn’t necessarily a criticism of Fox, but Fox is an unknown while ESPN had done a great job with it. With Copa America, there was a little bit of criticism when the analysts picked the United States to beat Argentina and then they went out and got thrashed, and then there was a little bit of criticism that the studio coverage was remote. As far as Russia in 2018 goes, what are the plans for the expansiveness of the studio show and things of that nature?
RS: When you are dealing with Russia, you have different rules and regulations. Clearly our goal — look, I’m not an executive, I’m just a talking head who wears makeup, who loves the sport dearly — and what I feel comfortable saying is every indication is we are trying to get into Moscow. We have locations. We have backup locations. We have backup backup locations in Moscow and other cities. We will be in Russia. There’s no disputing that.
You hit me with a lot of questions, so I’ll start at the beginning. ESPN: Did they do a great job with the World Cup? Hell yeah they did. Absolutely. I was proud to be a part of several of those broadcasts with Alexi Lalas through the years. I love my compadres over at ESPN. They did a wonderful job bringing the sport up, picking it up by its bootstraps.
What their upper tier management did to make the World Cup a priority is off the charts, and years down the road people are going to write about what John Skipper did for soccer in the United States. He made it a priority. He changed the concept of this sport at ESPN, in Bristol, and all the other surrounding tentacles that ESPN has.
But if you have questions about how we at Fox are going to handle the World Cup I want to say you’re joking, right? Please go back to two summers ago and look at what we did for the Women’s World Cup. Unparalleled production, exposure, care, and respect for the product. The product that is women’s soccer, the product that is the FIFA World Cup.
Please: there is nothing to be worried about. At all. You have no clue how much is going on behind the scenes right now, getting ourselves ready for Russia. Look, the road to Russia starts Friday, and frankly you can say it started back with the Confederation Cup activities leading up to what teams are going to be in there. We will have boots on the ground in Russia for the Confederation Cup. We are covering the Confederation Cup draw. We care intensely about World Cup qualifying.
We are off-the-charts planning these weekly and monthly meetings about the road to Russia, and how everything is going to take place in Russia, and the budget needs, and the humans that are coming. Half of it you may not see on our air right now, but you will see that summer in Russia. It is all happening.
I know I should be saying this, but I really honestly mean it because I do care what the soccer fan and viewer out there thinks, and I do want them to know: You’re gonna be okay. It’s gonna be alright. You are gonna walk away and say, “They did me right.” Honestly, please believe me.
It’s the same speech I thought I had to give in front of the Women’s World Cup, and I think by all accounts we exceeded expectations in front of the camera, with our production, with our ad sales, with the respect that we got and how we respected the sport and the tournament.
The FIFA World Cup in Russia is in good hands. Trust me.