ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – David Neal looks ahead to the World Cup in less than three years and envisions Fox broadcasting from its own studio in the middle of Moscow’s Red Square.
“I think for an American audience, you really have got to have something from Red Square. That says Russia,” said Neal, the executive producer of Fox’s World Cup coverage for both the men’s and women’s tournaments.
Neal is on his second trip to Russia, where soccer officials have gathered for the World Cup qualifying draw Saturday. He wants to follow the backdrops of ESPN’s set overlooking Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach and Fox’s open-air studio by Vancouver’s harbor with another dramatic vista.
“Between the Kremlin on one side, St. Basil’s on another and then the big GUM department store, there’s a big, flat empty space in the middle there, and it really lends itself to being able to set up a facility,” he said Thursday during an interview at FIFA’s headquarters hotel. “I’m glad we have three years to work on it because I can only imagine the amount of red tape.”
Fox took over World Cup U.S. broadcast rights this year from ESPN, which had them since 1994. Fox has made a huge commitment to soccer and has deals with FIFA running through 2026, the site of which hasn’t even been chosen.
After producing nine Olympics at NBC and running his own production company, Neal joined Fox three years ago. He led coverage of this year’s Women’s World Cup in Canada, where America’s first title in 16 years built a record U.S. television audience for soccer.
When he returned after the final to his Los Angeles office, he literally wiped the slate clean — erased everything on the large white board.
Fox planned 200 hours of coverage in Canada in and around the 52 games and expanded it to 250. For the 64-match men’s tournament, the early estimates are 450-600 hours.
While ESPN used British play-by-play commentators for the last two men’s World Cups, Fox went with Americans at the women’s tournament.
“I think the past sort of default place, which was we’ll have to have British announcers to somehow make it seem authentic, I think we’ve grown past that now,” Neal said. “Just as the game is gaining momentum in the U.S., so, too, are the broadcasters that are growing up with the game and have got real ability.”
While he used a three-broadcaster team for some matches in Canada, he plans for only two in Russia.
“The speed of the game is just different enough that it allows room for three voices,” he said of the women. “The men’s game is so fast-paced that three voices would tend to get in the way.”