Jason Longshore had the chance Friday to interview FOX Sports soccer commentator Rob Stone about the 2018 World Cup, USMNT, MLS and Atlanta United. Rob Stone is FOX’s lead studio host for all of their soccer coverage on the network. As the home of the 2018 World Cup, today was a busy day for Rob as he helmed the coverage of the World Cup Draw. You can read the first part of this interview here…
This is the first Men’s World Cup for FOX. What has FOX learned from carrying Women’s World Cups that can help with 2018.
ROB: Well the beauty is a lot of the people involved in the world cup presentation here at Fox have been involved in multiple world cups either as a player or a broadcaster with other entities or here at Fox. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of curveballs that we’re expecting. We always go in nimble and on our toes and knees bent and ready to take a hit from somewhere for something whether it’s another FIFA scandal breaks out like it did just before the Women’s World Cup a few years ago. But I think we’re really in a good place presentation-wise. We’re set and we’re ready to go. I tell you this right now: You give us 24 hours and tell us the tournament starts on Saturday, let’s go. We’re ready to roll the ball. We can handle it here. Frankly I don’t want to wait. Let’s bunker down in Red Square and let’s play this thing.
The biggest curveball that FOX got was the United States being out of the World Cup. What was your initial reaction and what a production without the United States looks like.
ROB: It’s customary that you spend a good amount of your programming hours and production time focused around your nation at that you’re covering. We’re lucky that we have Mexico which is like a secondary home country that we can focus on as well and obviously there’s always great interest in England and the absolute iconic stars out there. I’m not going to lie, absolutely it hurt. It was a blow for me. When you look back at it, American television has really not covered a world cup that did not include the U.S. in it. When you go back to 1990 when the U.S. started this run of World Cups, the World Cup presentation wasn’t anything compared to what it is now and the expectation on how it’s supposed to be covered so this is the first one where people are all in and every game is coming at you and there’s studio and there’s should programming and there’s debates and discussions that does not involve the home team and it hurts because I think initially there’s that fear out there – not really in our building but in other places – that the eyeballs won’t be there. And we want the eyeballs. We want to prove to them that this is a tournament that we can easily handle and looking forward to. As an American it stunk. It was as close I’ve experienced to depression. It was a 24 hour – if not a 48 hour – haze that I was in. I mean that literally. I was just kind of walking around home and I didn’t know what to do with myself and I didn’t know where to go. Alexi Lalas and I live in the same town and we’re good friends and we were getting bombarded with interview requests from radio, the papers, this and that and we were exhausted when we woke up and then we got extra spent. At some point that afternoon…we just kind of held each other, I know that sounds ridiculous but I think you understand, we just kind of looked at each other and we were so spent and exhausted and we just hugged. And it was just like “We’re gonna get through this you know? Let’s go buddy! We’re gonna lift ourselves up but we’re gonna mourn for a couple more minutes and shake our heads and kick some things and yell and scream and then we’re gonna move on.” I think everybody has done that, at least here at Fox. It was a stunning blow, it wasn’t something that anybody expected. But now, the healing has taken place and as I said we’re ready to love soccer again.
With this World Cup being so different without the United States, What will be the impact of the World Cup on MLS.
ROB: Well look there are still a lot of players who are associated with the league who are participating in the World Cup so we can’t lose sight of that. It’s easy just to say ‘Well the U.S. isn’t in it, then it’s not a World Cup’ look we’ve been spoiled the last couple of decades by constantly being in every World Cup since 1990. But it’s always been a talking point: ‘How is MLS a league that runs through the Summer, its schedule conflicts with the World Cup. How do they manage it? How do they capitalize on it? How do they – in a sense – profit from it by getting in players or getting news eyeballs?’ It’s a new experience for them as well. They certainly weren’t expecting this blow and that’s what it has to have been. I’ll be very curious and I don’t have any answer and I don’t have too much advice to give since I’m a little busy with what we’re doing here at Fox. But how they’re going to manage their schedule around the World Cup, I think they would be wise to really ease up and take a couple of weeks off at a minimum. But yet they can still know that millions and millions and millions of American television sets tuned in to the World Cup on a daily basis and they still realize that there’s an opportunity out there to capitalize and to make some type of positive move. And it will be interested to see how the American soccer community reacts, you know? I think one reason to watch is you might be watching your next manager coaching in the World Cup. I’d be stunned if the U.S. named the next head coach before the World Cup concludes.