When David Neal joined FOX Sports in 2012, executives David Hill and Eric Shanks told the veteran producer a major priority was to elevate the FIFA Women’s World Cup and its broadcast. The event is considered one of the crown jewels at FOX Sports.
“They said the Women’s World Cup needs to be on the same footing as the men’s World Cup,” Neal said during FOX Sports’ FIFA Women’s World Cup Send-Off Celebration at the Consulate General of France in New York City. “We don’t want it to be a laboratory; we don’t want it to be a boutique event; we want to give the Women’s World Cup the same prominence. From the very beginning I’ve had support with that. All the resources we’ve ever needed have come to both events, not just the men’s.”
Neal, executive producer of FIFA World Cup on FOX and FOX Sports vice-president of production, wasted little time raising the status of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. A staggering 25.4 million viewers watched the United States defeat Japan 5-2 in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final; it was the most-watched soccer match in U.S. history, according to Nielsen.
FOX Sports and Neal are at it again this summer with the network set to follow up on its record-breaking and award-winning production of the 2015 tournament in Canada. The 2019 FIFA Women’s Cup runs from June 7 through July 7 in France. FOX is airing 22 matches on broadcast TV, 27 matches on FOX Sports 1 and three on FS2.
“We’re not neophytes anymore,” Neal said. “We went into Canada keenly aware ESPN had done a fabulous job for many, many years; they had elevated soccer in this country to lofty levels. We went in determined to at least equal that level, and by all measures I think we exceeded it.
“Now we’re going in with our own bar; we set the bar four years ago. We’re going in absolutely focused on bettering what we did four years ago. We’re not complacent. We’re not going to settle for what we did four years ago; we want to do better.”
Neal said he felt as if the planets aligned perfectly for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the first of three FOX has the U.S. English broadcast rights to (2015, 2019, 2023). There were no time zone concerns with matches taking place throughout Canada, and the United States winning its first World Cup in 16 years in a rematch against Japan, the team that bested them in the final four years prior.
There is a slight concern regarding time zones this summer with France six hours ahead of the East Coast and nine hours ahead of the West Coast, but having the event on another continent didn’t deter viewers during the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia; a peak of 14.6 million tuned into FOX for the Final between France and Croatia last summer in Moscow.
Thankfully for American soccer fans, USWNT group matches are either 12 p.m. or 3 p.m. Eastern. The USWNT plays Thailand at 3 p.m. on June 11, Chile at noon on June 16, and Sweden at 3 p.m. on June 20; all three matches will be broadcast on FOX.
The 2019 Women’s World Cup Final on July 7 is slated for 11 a.m. ET, though the Copa America final in Rio de Janeiro and the CONCACAF Gold Cup final in Chicago are also the same day.
“We expect to do well,” Neal said. “There’s no doubt the time zone four years ago was ideal. I’m very bullish with what I think we’re going to do, and I think we’re going to do very well.”
While FOX and Neal are proud of the numbers they drew in 2015 and are expected to eclipse in 2019, they are as proud of the broadcast and studio team compiled for this summer’s month-long tournament with more than two-thirds women. Aly Wagner is partnering once again with veteran World Cup play-by-play announcer JP Dellacamera to headline match coverage, with Heather O’Reilly, Christie Pearce Rampone, Kelly Smith, Kate Abdo, Jenny Taft and Jenn Hildreth highlighting the coverage.
“I’m really proud of the broadcast team we’ve assembled, and it’s not just because it checks a box, it’s because they’re excellent broadcasters, they’ve played on the biggest stages, they know what it’s like to be out there and they’re great at communicating it,” Neal said. “I’m very proud of the effort we put into the Women’s World Cup and I’m really proud of the team we’ve assembled.”