Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated reported tonight that Gus Johnson is stepping down as FOX’s top soccer broadcaster. Johnson cites a packed college football and college basketball schedule causing him to not be able to devote as much time as he felt was needed to be a top soccer broadcaster. Johnson’s life also changed this summer due to his mother dying of cancer and getting engaged so Johnson wanted to cut back on doing games and enjoy some more time with his family.
There have been many fans and critics of Gus Johnson’s soccer broadcasting career. Before Gus made the switch, I was all for wanting Gus to branch out into soccer thinking it would be a great concept. He’s one of the best football and basketball broadcasters and it makes sense that he can make a smooth transition to soccer. Once he made the switch, it became apparent that there were some hiccups throughout. Personally, I felt that if Gus had time to practice the craft, he could have been a great soccer broadcaster. FOX didn’t do Johnson any favors by giving him top billing in advertisements along with Champions League and FA Cup Finalists and setting him up with a revolving door of broadcasting partners that seemed to change every game. By throwing him into the proverbial “lions den,” FOX essentially set the man up to fail by building him to such a high standard in the soccer public. If FOX had gone low key in Johnson’s arrival, many people would have cut him more slack as a soccer broadcaster.
Even though I personally have been tough on Gus’ soccer broadcasting, I respected the fact that he was a soccer fan first and gave as much attention as he could to be a better soccer broadcaster. I also respect that Gus took it upon himself to realize that he wasn’t giving soccer the coverage it deserved. Awareness is an attribute not seen by too many people and knowing one’s limitations or realizing that there are some things more important to life than one’s career, can result in a better situation for everyone involved. Johnson notes in the SI piece that, due to his schedule, it always seemed like he was constantly cramming and felt it wasn’t helping himself or the sport. It really seems like Gus is happy with this decision and by eliminating one sport and having more of a personal life, he can focus on being happier and being better than ever in college football and college basketball.
Now, what does this mean for FOX? As of now, FOX hasn’t named a replacement. Gus noted that he hopes FOX hires someone who can primarily spend time in Europe. FOX says that they hope to have Gus involved in soccer in some capacity but he won’t be the lead voice. That was what should’ve been done in the first place. From FOX’s perspective, I hope FOX learned something from this experiment. It’s no secret that FOX wants to have an American voice as a head broadcaster for their soccer coverage. Gus Johnson is one of the best American broadcasters in the business but even he struggled to do a good job as a soccer broadcaster. If anything, the “Gus Johnson Experiment” showed that you can’t just put anyone in a soccer booth and expect results. Fox needs to get someone who has been in soccer broadcasting (JP Dellacamera and John Strong come to mind) to cover the World Cup and other big soccer events and not use their biggest names (Joe Buck comes to mind) for a ratings push.