After nearly 900 games played between more than 200 nations over almost 1,000 days, the 2018 World Cup qualification process is finally over, and FOX Sports is less than 200 days away from its first World Cup presentation. The 32 countries that will play in the big tournament hosted in Russia have finished a long journey and will soon embark on another one. The same can be said for Emmy Award-winning FOX Sports host Fernando Fiore, who will broadcast his eighth World Cup in 2018. However, next year’s World Cup will mark a significant first for Fernando.
“This will be a different World Cup experience for me – it’ll be my first one in English,” he said in a recent conversation. “I worked in Spanish-language TV for so long, I really appreciate all the support from mainstream audiences that have embraced me with open arms. I also want to acknowledge FOX Sports for allowing me to join their soccer broadcasts.”
I asked Fernando about his reaction to the U.S. Men’s National Team’s performance in the qualifiers, how he prepares for World Cup broadcasts, the similarities between Spanish-speaking and English-speaking audiences, and more.
Were you surprised that the U.S. Men’s National Team failed to qualify for the big tournament?
I don’t know if “surprised” is the right word. Disappointed? Yes. When we started the qualifiers with the top six teams from CONCACAF, the U.S. started with a loss in Columbus, Ohio, against Mexico; then we went to Costa Rica and lost again. So we finished 2016, the beginning of “The Hex,” losing against our first two rivals, followed by a coaching change. Things didn’t go right from the beginning, and when you have to change the coach that late, it’s difficult to turn things around.
How has the preparation process been for this World Cup? And how does it compare with your previous experiences preparing for the World Cup?
In the six months leading up to the World Cup, you start to look at every single detail, statistics and players. You can prepare and prepare during those six months, but you also have to be ready for a lot of changes that happen last minute, like injuries. I’ve traveled all over the world covering the last seven World Cups, but for the last four tournaments, I traveled to every single host city to make sure I’m knowledgeable about the city first hand.
What do you do when you visit each city?
I share my passion for the beautiful game with the people. I spend time talking with taxi drivers, people in the streets, at the hotels about their expectations and excitement for the games. For me, it’s great preparation because you really get a feel for the country’s expectation for this big event. I’m doing the same thing now in Russia. I hope that I can visit the 11 host cities before the World Cup. I already went to four; when I go to the draw on Dec. 1, I’m hoping to visit two or three more. That’s the best kind of preparation for me: going there, trying to get a feel for the people and country.
The broadcast team you work with seems to have great on-air chemistry. What does it take behind the scenes to make that happen?
The best way to explain why we have such great chemistry is that we are all completely different. I never played professionally, so I always try to be the link between the broadcast and analysis, and represent the fan. I won’t have the same opinion as an ex-player who played in a World Cup like Alexi Lalas. We have completely different opinions, and that’s why I think we’re interesting.
You’re popular among Spanish-speaking and English-speaking soccer fans alike. What differences and similarities do you see in the two audiences?
You’ll find two sets of fan bases in both Spanish and English-speaking audiences. You have the diehard soccer fan, the one that eats and breathes soccer every single day; and then you have the casual viewer. The difficult part is to deliver content and information to both groups in a way that doesn’t alienate the other.
What does each group want to see in a broadcast?
The diehard soccer fans want the broadcast to talk about the X’s and O’s, and dissect the game because they know so much about soccer. The casual viewer only watches the World Cup every four years, so you can’t talk too deep about soccer because you lose them. I try to balance my opinions to help serve both avid and casual fans.
I saw that you recently joined the U.S. Soccer Foundation as an ambassador, so you’re clearly invested in the growth of the sport in this country, particularly in underserved communities. Can you talk about your role?
To tell you the truth, this is one of the best things that has happened to me this year. They have a project called Soccer for Success, which I love. We need to get more kids involved in sports, and particularly soccer because it’s fun and healthy for them. We need to provide more after-school programs, guidance, coaches and places to play, especially in underprivileged areas that don’t have the luxury of a nice soccer field or mentors who can teach you the game. The goal for 2026 is to get 1 million kids playing soccer in more than 1,000 playing spaces. It might seem like a huge number that’s difficult to reach, but we have great sponsors that really believe in this project. The kids will go for the fun, to help keep out of trouble and be healthy, and from that pool you can develop the players of the future.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup begins June 14, 2018, and ends with the final in Moscow on July 15, 2018. All games will be live on FOX Sports and FOX Sports GO.