SBD/February 6, 2013/Media

Gus Johnson To Call Soccer Games As Fox Preps Him For '18 World Cup

Johnson prepared for the Fox assignments by calling MLS Earthquakes games in '12
Gus Johnson will call the first in a series of broadcasts for Fox Soccer on Feb. 13 for a Manchester United-Real Madrid Champions League match, and if everything “goes well, Johnson will be Fox's lead announcer for the 2015 Women's World Cup as well as its lead voice for the 2018 World Cup,” according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com. Other "high-profile" soccer assignments for Johnson include a Bayern Munich-Arsenal Champions League match Feb. 19 and a Chelsea-Manchester City EPL game Feb. 24. Johnson will call “additional Premier League and Champions League matches and is scheduled to call the FA Cup final on Fox on May 11 and the Champions League final on Fox on May 25.” Fox Sports co-President & co-COO Eric Shanks and Johnson both “emphasized repeatedly” that Johnson as a soccer announcer is “a long-term work in progress.” Deitsch noted Johnson's “preparation began last fall,” as he called 12 MLS Earthquakes radio broadcasts. Johnson "admits he had little exposure to the sport” before his discussions with Shanks “about the possibility of calling world soccer." Given Johnson's broadcasting “inexperience for a sport with a rabid, intelligent fan base that demands expertise in the booth, Fox Sports knows it will get skepticism (if not serious criticism) for the move.” Shanks: "We would not be doing this if we did not think that Gus was putting the time, effort and energy into doing a broadcast that appeals to the people listening to Martin Tyler and Ian Darke. We will work to be as good as those guys but by no means does Gus think he is Martin Tyler or Ian Darke at this point.” Shanks said that he and Fox Sports execs will “search globally to staff up the 2015 Women's World Cup and 2018 World Cup, so expect some veteran soccer announcers to join Johnson at some point.” Johnson will have “different analysts for each of his initial matches this month” (SI.com, 2/5).

NOT A GRAND PLAN: Shanks said having Johnson call soccer matches "wasn’t a grand plan from the beginning and it was kind of off-the-cuff." Shanks: "It’s a tough assignment, but he pours himself in his work. It took awhile and took some coercing. But he’s a unique sports voice, and there’s a first time for everything.” Johnson said he wants to “tap into the passion of the world’s game and understand why it’s almost more than a religious experience for some of these fans” (USA TODAY, 2/6).

TIME TO RISE AND FIRE? ESPN's Jackie MacMullan said fans should give Johnson a "chance," as he is "going to spend six years practicing this" prior to the '18 World Cup. In addition to calling Earthquakes games, Johnson is also “actually playing pick-up soccer to learn the game." MacMullan: "That’s dedication." Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said, “I like the idea of bringing in a familiar face and a familiar voice, but the problem is the ball doesn’t go ‘forward’ enough in soccer. And he’s going to have to work on getting some new topics to throw out as the game drags along.” Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said, “He’d make a great voice of American soccer, but he’s got to work on those ‘Goals!’ He’s got to extend the words a lot longer” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 2/5).
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