The Fox Sports promotional copy probably describes it best:
“This isn’t some sporting event. This is a fist fight for the undisputed, pound-for-pound heavyweight championship of the entire planet!”
It describes the biggest tournament for the biggest sport in the world. We’re talking soccer teams representing 32 nations playing 64 games over 32 consecutive days. It’s the 2018 FIFA Men’s World Cup!
You’ll be able to watch most of those games LIVE on WGHP FOX8. And the person responsible for making those broadcasts happen is not only one of the most accomplished and respected people in sports television. He also has a local connection.
“The World Cup will be the biggest event in Fox Sports history,” David Neal told me during a recent interview.
Neal is the executive producer of “FIFA World Cup on FOX” and vice-president, production for Fox Sports. He comes from a television family.
His late father, Roy Neal, spent 38 years covering the United States Space Program as a correspondent for NBC News. In retirement, Roy Neal would live in High Point, where he taught at High Point University.
“My father was the consummate journalist,” David Neal told me. “I remember one time when I was in college (and I was a journalism major as well), I wrote a paper my junior year. I brought it home, gave it to my dad, and he basically just punctured holes throughout the story.”
But that didn’t stop David from becoming successful in television. He’d go on to spent more than 30 years at NBC Sports where he led coverage of nine Olympic games, four NBA finals and many other events.
He joined Fox Sports in 2012 and led, most recently, the network’s coverage of the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
“Honestly, I think the only job what would’ve appealed to me, that would’ve made me go back to network television was the World Cup,” he said. “So, it was beyond fortuitous for me that Fox took the rights away from ESPN.”
This summer, he’s heading up the Fox Sports coverage of the 2018 Men’s World Cup in Russia. It’s a daunting task considering “Team USA” didn’t qualify.
“Without question, I wish the U.S. were in Russia for the World Cup. The thing is, though, that when the U.S. went out, we didn’t lose any of the best players in the world which may be part of the reason the U.S. didn’t qualify,” he said.
Neal and his team plan to counter the U.S. absence by “playing up” those great players who will be in Russia—focusing on, among other things, their skills, stories and personalities.
“We treat the 32 teams as the cast of characters. For us, the 33rd character is Russia,” he said.
In fact, National Geographic (which is now part of the 21st Century Fox Family) has a crew in Russia and will produce Russia-related stories for the Fox Sports World Cup broadcasts every day.
Neal says despite the strained relations between the United States and Russia, he hasn’t encountered any anti-American sentiment there during his 17 trips to Russia prior to the World Cup coverage beginning.
Fox Sports will be the only broadcaster with a stand-alone set in Red Square. Neal calls this set a “signature part” of the coverage.
“This is where you prove your mettle as a producer. This is where you prove your mettle as a storyteller,” he told me.
For more information on the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Fox (including game schedules and times), click on the Fox Sports World Cup Fan Guide here.