For David Neal, the Executive Producer of FIFA World Cup on Fox Sports, the U.S. Women’s National Team’s win over Germany on Tuesday brought more than a trip to the finals. The ongoing event is his first World Cup with Fox, which owns the rights to broadcast the event from 2015 through 2026 and has delivered record ratings. The Washington Times spoke with Neal about designing Fox Sports‘ coverage, his interest in the sport and how the game is growing in America.
Question: Given that this was the first World Cup event that Fox has had the rights to cover, what was the first impression that you wanted to make with your coverage of this Women’s World Cup?Neal: We wanted to make a clear statement that we are all in. This is a major event for us and we were going to commit every resource to it that we have, and I think that we’ve made a pretty emphatic statement about it, now a month in, that this is a priority for us and we’re going big with it.
Q: You were hired at Fox after the deal was originally signed but as the guy to assemble the team and make a finished product once Fox had the rights to broadcast the games in the U.S. How did you view that particular challenge?A: It fascinated me from the very outset. I’ve produced nine Olympics at NBC, so I felt a lot of parallels between the way that you produce an Olympics and the way you produce a World Cup. They’re both global events, both obviously involving elements of national pride and patriotism, along with putting the greatest athletes in the world together, so those parallels were, to me, something that was very engaging from the outset. And the other thing that was particularly irresistible, for me, was that in my first meeting with David Hill, who is really the founder of Fox Sports, and Eric Shanks, who is our president, they both made it clear to me that this Women’s World Cup was meant to be given every resource, every bit of backing — that this was not some small boutique event, that this was not meant to be a laboratory for Russia in 2018, but that instead it was meant to be a stand-on-its-own major event and that the company was committed to giving it all the resources that it needed. And I have to tell you, three years down the road, without exception, that has been true. That has been the way that we’ve operated this event, the support that we’ve had, and I think you see that reflected on the screen and in the coverage that we put out there.
Q: You mentioned three years, but what has the timeline been like for assembling the team, organizing and finalizing the set and all the graphics you need to provide to make the most appealing coverage?A: What you have to do when you’re preparing for an event of this magnitude, is recognizing that you can’t accomplish everything in one day, that you have to prioritize. You have to look at the production plan, you have to create the production plan, you have to look at the talent that you need to execute that plan, you have to look at logistics, you have to decide where your stage, where your set is going to be located, you have to decide where your base of operations is going to be, and those, for us, were very significant decisions. And early on, about two and a half years ago, we decided on this location here on the harbor in Vancouver and our host, which is the Vancouver Convention Centre, has been an ideal partner. They’ve made this possible for us. We also decided early on that we would split our technical operation between Canada and our home base in Los Angeles on the Fox block. That has worked perfectly. It’s worked seamlessly for us. So, a lot of those big-picture decisions get made fairly early in the process, and then you have to work the details to get from your plan of what you want to do to what you can actually accomplish, and so it takes a lot of time and it just takes patience to recognize that you can’t get it all done in one day.
Q: To what extent, when you’re making those decisions, are you sure that they’re going to work out as well as it seems they have, or to what extent do you feel like you’re gambling?A: You know, this business, this is a business that’s inherently risky. You try to make calculated decisions, you try to not put yourself in a position where you’re unlikely to succeed but you’re right, when you’re dealing with an event, in this case, with more than 200 hours of television, more than 400 employees, millions of dollars of rights fees involved, millions of dollars of production, you try to be very calculated in your decision. You can never be 100 percent certain, obviously, of anything but you try to make informed choices and put yourself in the best position to succeed.