When Rob Stone was excelling as a midfielder at Colgate and majoring in English — when he wasn’t playing soccer — his dream job did not yet exist. Soccer in American television wasn’t an afterthought. It wasn’t a thought at all.
Stone worked toward a career in broadcasting, but never imagined it would be this career. He couldn’t have pictured being the primary host for Fox Sports’ coverage of the FIFA World Cup, with millions of fans in the United States watching each day.
“No chance. When I was in college, and even before that, I knew what I wanted to do,” Stone told Sporting News. “But I was well aware it would have to be with a well-rounded approach. The concept of making a living in America covering soccer was nonexistent. It wasn’t even like a pipe dream. I didn’t dream about it because it was so unrealistic.”
Stone will begin the final day of his first men’s World Cup co-hosting from Red Square, with Kate Abdo positioned at Luzhniki Stadium, on the World Cup Live pregame show at 9 a.m. ET on FS1. That's in advance of a switch from that show to “big Fox” at 10, followed by the final game between France and surprise Croatia at 11. At the conclusion of that game, Fox will produce an hour-long World Cup Today postgame show.
The world of television, and the world of American sports, has changed considerably since Stone began working as a production assistant at ESPN following his graduation from Colgate in 1991. He left for three years to get on-air experience in Tampa, and then returned in 1997 to work primarily as a college football reporter. When Major League Soccer was launched in 1996 and ESPN began to show games — and when the network got into the business of televising the World Cup and Major League Soccer — his soccer background and broadcasting chops were finally wed.
“I’ll always be a soccer guy,” Stone said.
It has been a successful marriage. His soccer work led Fox to hire him away six years ago after the network won the rights to broadcast the FIFA World Cups through 2022. That meant the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015 and 2019, plus the men in Russia and Qatar.
That turned out wonderfully for Fox in 2015, when the United States won its third World Cup title behind Carli Lloyd’s emergence as a superstar. It was not so fortuitous in advance of this tournament, however, when the U.S. men blew a golden shot to reach the World Cup by losing on the final day of qualification to lowly Trinidad & Tobago.
Fox had no choice but to regroup from that, and it generally has done well to deliver a World Cup that is relevant to American audiences that have, over the course of Stone’s career, grown in their embrace of the world’s game.
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Stone said the American absence was, indeed, “an absolute gut-punch”, but that eventually those preparing the telecasts viewed a World Cup without the U.S. as an opportunity to show how well the Fox team could cover the world.
We've seen reporter Jenny Taft conduct interviews in French with key members of the France team. We've watched a series of world soccer voices rotate through the studio, from Argentina’s Hernan Crespo to England’s Ian Wright and Kelly Smith and Guus Hiddink of the Netherlands, who has coached national teams from his native country to South Korea and Russia.
Stone’s job has been to give the telecasts a consistent tone, to provide relevant information and to put those analysts in position to excel. His love for soccer and his knowledge of the game shine through daily.
“It’s going to go down as one of those seminal moments in American soccer history, where people are going to fully realize just how big this sport is in our country,” Stone said. “There are some people out there that still see soccer as a fringe sport, and that’s just not the case anymore. And I think a lot of people wrote off this World Cup because the U.S. isn’t there. That also is not the case anymore.”
Stone said Americans are “fluent” in understanding the makeup of the key national teams, the stars who have visited our televisions over the past month: established names like Neymar, Messi, Ronaldo as well as younger talents like France’s Kylian Mbappe. “This is not stuff we have to educate the public on to the degree we used to.”
Stone said he felt more pressure in advance of the 2015 Women’s World Cup than he did before heading to Russia, because the women’s event was Fox’s first major FIFA broadcast — and there were questions about how that would be executed and received. The success there led to greater confidence this World Cup coverage would be a success even, without the U.S. team.
Obviously, the absence of Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and especially emerging star Christian Pulisic was an enormous loss for Fox. The Wall Street Journal reported that Fox will lose money on the tournament, although ratings have been buoyed by the number of close, exciting games — including several in the knockout rounds that went to penalty shootouts. Saturday’s quarterfinal ratings were higher than the corresponding games achieved four years ago, a remarkable number giving the significant general TV ratings decline over that period.
“Once the first ball is kicked off, the tournament just takes you for a ride,” Stone said. “You need to be prepared for the curveballs that will be coming your way. In the end, it’s what happened, and what does that mean going forward.”
Source : http://www.sportingnews.com/us/soccer/news/world-cup-2018-france-croatia-rob-stone-fox-coverage-american-interest-mbappe-modric/rbi2pgx9eyps1kpynsubv8jn21087