I don’t know about you, but I didn’t really believe Alexi Lalas when he appeared on my television set and told me that Fox was "the home for all things El Tri this summer." My sneaking suspicion was confirmed a couple weeks ago when it was announced that the Fox commentating team of Jorge Perez-Navarro and Mariano Trujillo, the guys who’ll almost certainly be calling the Mexico games, wouldn’t even be sent to Russia. They’ll be calling games from a darkened room in Los Angeles.
The news that only two of Fox’s six World Cup commentating teams would be stationed in Russia (a cost cutting measure to go along with the economical decision of hiring a largely American crew rather than splashing for some of the world’s most renowned broadcasters) was almost enough to induce a spell of dry heaving.
But Fox’s apathy is Telemundo’s gain. The exclusive Spanish-language home of the World Cup in the U.S. will have all of its commentators on the ground in Russia, and Telemundo Deportes president Ray Warren really said it best when discussing the decision:
“I just don’t know how else you would do it,” he shots-fired. “Smelling the grass, the hot dogs, hearing the fans, three dimensions, weather. All of those things. And the full view and the full immersion in those moments. To me, that’s what sports is all about. So we’re going to do that in as many places as is humanly possible.”
56 of the the matches will be on Telemundo, eight on sister network Universo. It doesn’t hurt that the biggest matches will be called by four-time Emmy Award winner Andres Cantor.
So how is it possible that Fox could fail so miserably in this regard while Telemundo excels? Well, some of it is probably down to the genius of Telemundo World Cup Executive Producer Jim Bell.
You might not know the name, but you know his work. Bell is the president of NBC’s Olympics Production & Programming — he’s the man who transformed curling, biathlon and the luge into can’t-miss spectacles of sporting drama throughout the 2018 Winter Games, and he has Olympic experience with NBC dating back to the ’92 Games in Barcelona. He's going to ensure that the world's greatest spectacle is truly presented as such.
And how will the coverage play out on Telemundo? The network is planning more than 1,500 hours of 2018 FIFA World Cup coverage, including over 500 hours on Telemundo and Universo coupled with more than 1,000 hours of original digital content.
What’s more, Telemundo will be the first-ever U.S. broadcaster to air a nightly prime time show dedicated to the World Cup. The show will air at 7 p.m. ET — every night — and last for one hour.
Fox, meanwhile, has plans for 350 hours of programming. When you’ve had enough of Alexi Lalas, switch over to Telemundo to watch former stars Diego Forlan (Uruguay), Teofilo Cubillas (Peru), Tab Ramos (USMNT), Jesus “Chucho” Ramirez (Mexico) and Claudio Borghi (Argentina) have a discussion.
Plus, Telemundo has promised “dedicated crews following the teams with special emphasis on the most relevant teams for the Hispanic audience.” With Uruguay, Peru, Argentina, Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Costa Rica and Spain all falling under this umbrella (plus both Portugal and Brazil), Telemundo’s approach is just so much more appropriate for the enormity of the occasion.
This is undoubtedly the largest production in the history of Fox Sports, but their one-size-fits-all approach is probably going to grate with more nuanced viewers (and the predictable daily USMNT talk is going to irritate in the extreme).
I’m thrilled to have both options, but I fully expect that this will be a summer of football + self-improvement in Spanish for me.
Triggers for immediately switching to Telemundo
- (1) Lalas starts talking about "set pieces, set pieces, set pieces."
- (2) Dr. Joe Machnik + VAR = Oh no.
- (3) Grant Wahl gets trotted out to talk about Neymar transfer gossip.
- (4) Rachel Bonnetta just gets a bit too social with it all. I don’t really want to share and comment, I just want to watch the World Cup.
- (5) I’m not sold on Cobi Jones the commentator yet (I thought he was better in the studio).
- (6) Warren Barton going full Roy Keane ("disgrace," "rubbish," "should be ashamed") before, during and after England matches.