Kick this idea around: Establish a 15-hour time frame on a scorching summer Sunday when connecting the final plot lines of three major soccer tournaments, on three different continents, creates a pitch-perfect-palooza viewing party that also happens to fall on America’s Fourth of July extended weekend.
Where do the TV networks sign up?
Fox led the charge, partnering with the FIFA Women’s World Cup from France that launched in the morning for U.S. viewers. Then it circled back for an evening affair with the CONCACAF Gold Cup. If as much by wishful thinking as by design, it had both the U.S. women’s and men’s national teams on center stage in each of those merriments.
Wedged between, a Copa America title bout that boasts the best of South America, something ESPN+ could frame as pay wall-worthy if one wasn’t inclined to listen to Andres Cantor call it aloud for Telemundo’s Spanish-language viewers.
Not everyone, of course, shared the amicable spirit of this cable-ready mash-up.
Long before the U.S. women clinched their second straight World Cup with a 2-0 win over the Netherlands, with a kickoff of 8 a.m. Pacific time on Fox’s over-the-air network, a variety of expostulations were registered as loudly for this arrangement as they once were for the Video Assistant Referee system.
Aly Wagner, Fox’s lead Women’s World Cup match analyst, called it “terrible” and “disturbing” that the event she covered and once participated in “does not have its own day to stand on its own. … They wouldn’t dream of doing it to the men. Why would they do it to the women?”
Grant Wahl, the longtime Sports Illustrated soccer writer and a Fox Sports soccer “correspondent-at-large,” corresponded on his Twitter feed with posts calling it “terribly disrespectful” that the organizers of the two men’s events, with FIFA’s approval, scheduled their finals on the same day as the Women’s World Cup. Wahl also posted video of an interview he did a month ago with CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, who admitted “it was simply an error” to schedule the Gold Cup final on the same day, saying it could have been on Saturday instead.
FIFA was prepared with a statement: “The scheduling of the different events has gone through a comprehensive consultancy process, which has involved all key stakeholders and taken into account different aspects of the women’s and men’s international match calendars. It is a rare and exciting occurrence.”
Note the rare inclusion of the words “key stakeholders,” a reference to the network partners who signed off on all this.
When contacted in Lyon, France, on Sunday evening after the U.S. women’s victory, Fox Sports soccer executive producer David Neal stuck to his belief stated long before this narrative resurfaced that this tripleheader would shine a favorable light on the entire sport, no matter how one might bend it.
“The day is a celebration of soccer, and this tournament is a celebration of women’s sports, not just soccer,” Neal said. “When you look at the viewer numbers, and we had it tough with this Central European time zone, we have exceeded everything. This is all a positive, no matter what tournament.
“Of all the events we’ve covered, I’m as proud of this [Women’s World Cup] as anything. It’s been a wonderful ride.”
U.S. forward Megan Rapinoe, left, joins teammates in celebration after defeating the Netherlands in the Women’s World Cup final on Sunday in Lyon, France.(Alessandra Tarantino / Associated Press)
American forward Megan Rapinoe poses with the Golden Boot after scoring the most goals in the Women’s World Cup.(Jean-Philippe Ksiazek / AFP / Getty Images)
Members of the U.S. team celebrate after defeating Netherlands 2-0 in the Women’s World Cup final.(David Vincent / Associated Press)
USWNT forward Megan Rapinoe, right, waves before the France 2019 Women’s World Cup final match between the U.S. and Netherlands on July 7 at Lyon Stadium in Lyon, France.(Jean Philippe Ksiazek / Getty Images)
American midfielder Rose Lavelle leaps into the arms of Alex Morgan as they, along with Megan Rapinoe, celebrate a goal by Lavelle during the second half Sunday.(Francisco Seco / Associated Press)
U.S. forward Megan Rapinoe scores her side’s opening goal on a penalty shot during the second half to open the scoring against Netherlands.(David Vincent / Associated Press)
American forward Megan Rapinoe (15) celebrates with teammate Alex Morgan after scoring against Netherlands on a penalty kick.()
U.S. forward Alex Morgan, center, battles for possession with Stefanie Van der Gragt, left, and Amouk Dekker of Netherlands during the FIFA Women’s World Cup final in Lyon, France, on July 7.(Alex Grimm / Getty Images)
Netherlands goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal makes a save during the FIFA Women’s World Cup final against the United States in Lyon, France, on July 7.(Jean-Philippe Ksiazek / AFP/Getty Images)
Netherlands goalkeeper Sari Van Veenendaal, right, leaps to make a save during the FIFA Women’s World Cup final against the United States in Lyon, France, on July 7.(Francisco Seco / Associated Press)
U.S. defender Crystal Dunn drives past Netherlands' Danielle Van de Donk during the FIFA Women’s World Cup final against the United States in Lyon, France, on July 7.(Robert Cianflone / Getty Images)
U.S. defender Abby Dahlkemper and Netherlands forward Lineth Beerensteyn compete for the ball during the FIFA Women’s World Cup final.(Philippe Desmazes / AFP/Getty Images)
Midfielders Samantha Mewis of the U.S. and Anouk Dekker of the Netherlands battle for control of the ball.(Srdjan Suki / EPA-EFE / REX)
Netherlands forward Lineth Beerensteyn and U.S. defender Abby Dahlkemper vie for the ball.(Jean-Philippe Ksiazek / AFP/ Getty Images)
American goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher clears the ball on a centering pass before Netherlands forward Lineth Beerensteyn can attempt a shot.(Francois Mori / Associated Press)
U.S. forward Megan Rapinoe is knocked to the pitch by Netherlands midfielder Anouk Dekker.(Srdjan Suki / EPA-EFE / REX)
American midfielder Julie Ertz heads the ball toward a teammate.(Franck Fife / AFP / Getty Images)
Netherlands midfielder Lieke Martens is challenged by American midfielder Julie Ertz.(Richard Heathcote / Getty Images)
U.S. forward Alex Morgan brings down a pass while marked by Netherlands defender Anouk Dekker.(Jean-Philippe Ksiazek / AFP / Getty Images)
Fox averaged 1.4 million viewers on its three channels through the semifinals, up 6 percent from 2015 and 50 percent from the 2011 Women’s World Cup. The final could produce record numbers despite the early start.
Meanwhile, Wagner’s comments on the Fox broadcast shortly after the U.S. team’s victory punctuated Neal’s sentiment and seemed to override whatever previous misgivings she had.
“The eyes, the pressure that was on this team coming into the World Cup, the way they handled it, the way they lifted a nation, the way they’ve lifted a gender, has been something to behold,” Wagner said. “Yes, it’s football, but they have done so much more, against all odds, in the most challenging World Cup we’ve ever seen.”
But then the hyperbole heightened. Heather O’Reilly, a former U.S. star player-turned-Fox analyst, first cleared her throat because of her emotions before exclaiming: “I’m so incredibly proud of this team.”
She’s allowed to say that? Apparently.
Analyst Alexi Lalas followed: “You’re looking at one of the greatest teams in sports history.”
“Over the last five weeks, people love to hate this USA team, but you can’t,” said analyst Kelly Smith, a former star player from England. “They’re an adorable bunch of players.”
Using Brazil’s triumph over Peru in the Copa America bridge game, the U.S-Mexico contest from Chicago launched with an amped-up, on-site pregame leading into a John Strong and Stu Holden call for Fox. By that time, even newly minted soccer aficionados, by virtue of this TV experience, realized that the bar was actually set very high by the Women’s World Cup final, and it never dropped down.
“All right, America, have you been with us the whole day?” Strong asked just before the second half of the scoreless Gold Cup final started. “It’s been about 13 hours since we came on live from Paris this morning. … This is an epic day in American soccer, one really without comparison, and we’ll probably never see anything like this again.”
“Not a bad nightcap,” Holden added.
Red card to anyone who believes there was any disrespect dealt on any level.
— Leslie Jones’ outrageous Twitter feed, which led to NBC sending the “Saturday Night Live” cast member on site for its coverage of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics and 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, went to another level of adult-language mayhem when she posted commentary with TV video of Sunday’s Women’s World Cup.
— ESPN, not Fox, jumped on a deal to carry the National Women’s Soccer League games for the second half of its current season. The league’s games to date were only available on Yahoo Sports video streaming. Six games will go on ESPN2, and eight more will be carried by ESPNEWS, through the Oct. 27 title game. The proof will be if a major network sticks with the NWSL, and its U.S. Women’s National Team members dispersed through the rosters, come the 2020 season.
— How again did BBC Sport coax in former USWNT goalie Hope Solo for studio commentary Sunday and Fox didn’t? That’s another audio stream we would have appreciated as an alternative listen.
— The PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing, along with the lifetime achievement in the sports writing category, apparently will cease. ESPN, which coincidentally is soon ending a run in the magazine long-form journalism business, decided it did not want to continue funding and co-sponsoring the award that is considered by many as sportswriting’s most prestigious prize.
Any media company out there care to step up with the $10,000 annual prize for the nonprofit organization to keep this award from completely disappearing?