This coming into the Fang’s Bites inbox and a little bit of a surprise. First, we began hearing that Gus Johnson was calling MLS games over the past couple of years. And Deadspin has video of one of his games from last year. Privately, I was thinking that Fox could utilize Gus on the World Cup. Then today, Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch reports that Fox is grooming Johnson to not only call World Cup games, but be THE Voice of the World Cup.
In fact, Gus’ first international soccer assignment will be next Wednesday in a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 match between Real Madrid and Manchester United on Fox Soccer. This will be the first case of Fox utilizing its own talent instead of relying on the Sky Sports or the International feed for the Champions League.
In addition to the Champions League, Fox will utilize Gus on the English Premier League in this last year of its contract and also on the FA Cup.
For the Champions League game, Fox will team Gus with studio analyst Warren Barton.
For the 2006 World Cup in Germany, ESPN utilized the miscast Dave O’Brien as the main voice and both the network and O’Brien were criticized for his lack of knowledge. Since 2006, ESPN has gone the European route for international soccer and NBC Sports tapped Brit Arlo White for MLS. We’ll see how the soccer community which can be very militant about announcers, embraces Johnson.
Here’s the press release.
Accomplished, Veteran Sportscaster Puts 18-Months of Study into Practice on Feb. 13 Calling Real Madrid-Manchester United
Los Angeles – One of America’s most distinctive and dynamic sportscasters calls his first-ever match for FOX Soccer on Wednesday, Feb. 13 when FOX Sports renowned play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson calls the highly anticipated UEFA Champions League Round of 16 match between Real Madrid and Manchester United, live from Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabéu at 2:00 PM ET. The assignment is the first in a series of Barclays Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League matches Johnson is expected to call, including the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League Finals, May 11 and 25, respectively, on FOX.
Johnson, who has become a household name among sports fans for his memorable calls and signature catchphrases, has spent most of his career covering professional and collegiate sports, including football, basketball, baseball and boxing, among others. Calling soccer, however, is a relatively new undertaking.
“Over the past 20 years Gus has cemented himself as an iconic American sports broadcaster, and we’re thrilled to welcome his style to the world soccer stage,” said David Nathanson, Executive Vice President and General Manager of FOX Soccer. “Gus has spent the last year-and-a-half getting ready to call what is a new sport for him, and I applaud the work, study and time he’s devoted to his preparation. He respects how passionate and knowledgeable the soccer fan is, and while his education continues, he’s ready to lend his classic American voice to the world’s biggest sport.”
Since accepting this new challenge, Johnson has tapped several resources in his effort to learn as much as possible in such a short period of time. He called over a dozen MLS games on radio, mostly those of the San Jose Earthquakes; he has played pick-up soccer games in a park near his Manhattan home; spent several weeks in Europe last season attending games and conversing at length with Sky Sports executives and world-class football play-by-play announcer Martin Tyler. In Madrid, Johnson is partnering with FOX Soccer analyst Warren Barton, who in his playing days appeared in more than 300 Premier League matches. Barton, along with former players Eric Wynalda and Cobi Jones have aided Johnson tremendously in his soccer broadcasting education, collaborating with him on numerous practice telecasts under the tutelage of FOX Soccer Executive Producer Jonty Whitehead.
“No doubt that the followers of this sport are among the most passionate, knowledgeable fans in the world, and I’m a newcomer,” said Johnson. “The effort to learn the sport and absorb its nuance has been a humbling experience. While I’ve put a lot of time into my preparation thus far, it’s definitely going to take a lot of reps before I’ve mastered soccer’s rhythm and pace, but I am determined to do so, and with all the support I’m receiving I have no doubt that I will.”
In addition to Johnson’s Feb. 13 assignment in Madrid, he’s scheduled to call another UEFA Champions League match, this one between Arsenal and Bayern Munich, on Feb. 19 with analyst Ray Clemence and a Barclays Premier League game featuring Manchester City and Chelsea on Feb. 24 with Lee Dixon as analyst.
Since joining FOX Sports in 2011 Johnson has been a staple of the network’s college football (Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12, and Conference USA) and NFL productions. This past year, he has been on the call for memorable moments such as Texas A&M’s 41-13 trouncing of Oklahoma in the 77th Cotton Bowl Classic, USC’s high-scoring 62-51 loss to Oregon last November, and Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez’s 76-yard touchdown run in the 2012 Big Ten Championship game.
Let’s see how this works. I hope it will be successful. I know Gus has his detractors, but let’s see how he does next week before rushing to judgment.