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Volume 22 No. 11
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National Geographic to join Fox at World Cup

The National Geographic Society — a 128-year-old educational and scientific group — has agreed to help document one of the world’s biggest sports events.

National Geographic has told Fox Sports that it will deploy its photographers and video producers in Russia to help Fox tell stories around the 2018 FIFA World Cup, stories that will be used on the TV network’s telecasts, digital outlets and social media posts.

“Our idea is to make the host country one of our characters,” said David Neal, executive producer for Fox Sports’ coverage of the FIFA World Cup. “National Geographic will come in and help us bring Russia to life. It’s essential for us to give viewers a sense of the place and feel like it’s a destination.”

The World Cup will mark the first collaboration between Fox Sports and National Geographic Partners, a for-profit company that the National Geographic Society and 21st Century Fox set up last fall. “I can promise you that it won’t be the last,” said Neal, who produced nine Olympics for NBC.

Neal and Fox Sports President Eric Shanks visited National Geographic’s Washington, D.C., offices last week for a daylong brainstorming session focused on how the two groups can work together during the World Cup. Neal said they don’t have many specifics about what to expect — “the logistics phase comes next,” he said. But Neal plans to have National Geographic journalists work alongside Fox Sports’ features group, which is run by Jennifer Pransky, Fox Sports’ coordinating producer for the features division.

The idea is to let Pransky’s group focus on the sport and the athletes and National Geographic’s group focus on the Russian culture and World Cup fans through maps, photos and videos.

“The differences between Moscow and Sochi are stark,” Neal said. “National Geographic is expert at portraying the diversity of that culture. We’re not asking them to shoot sports.”

National Geographic branding is expected to appear on-screen when its footage is used, Neal said.

“This is unprecedented,” Neal said. “National Geographic is the gold standard in their space. The fact that we’re under the same umbrella is unreal.”

National Geographic and Fox established a relationship back in 1997, when Fox helped launch National Geographic TV channels internationally. National Geographic Partners encompasses the society’s cable channels, magazine and digital and social platforms.