Alexi Lalas' time at ESPN is over. The former United States international, who has been on of the most visible American soccer pundits since retiring, is joining Fox Sports beginning in January.
Lalas' contract with ESPN expires at the end of the year and he has been rumored to be on the way to Fox for the last few months, but now it is official. Both Fox and Lalas have confirmed the move, while ESPN personalities have wished him well at his new home.
The move makes sense for Lalas, who lives in Los Angeles and now has a short drive to the Fox lot as opposed to flying across the country to Bristol for ESPN. Fox also has the rights to the World Cups in 2018 and 2022, plus they get MLS rights back next year. Lalas will presumably be a regular on Fox's MLS coverage, as well as their U.S. and international coverage, to go along with some Champions League and Bundesliga work.
With Fox acquiring new soccer rights, they were always going to have to hire more talent. That began last week when they announced they had brought Brad Friedel on, and now they have added Lalas. They will join a team that includes host Rob Stone and analysts Eric Wynalda and Warren Barton. It's clear that Fox values having American voices, with all of their talent but Barton being American, and they will probably still need to make a couple more hires.
It will be interesting to see how Lalas fits in at Fox. The network's soccer coverage has been shoddy, at best, but they are making huge investments in the sport and are signaling that they know they need to make changes. The question is where these changes will take them.
Lalas has always been as much an entertainer as an analyst, and it has worked for him. After all, sports and TV are entertainment, but putting him and Wynalda on the same set may be disastrous. The network also needs to make adjustments to its approach, professionalism and production. As we saw in the Women's World Cup draw show, even when they have good talent with smart thoughts and good analysis, it doesn't always make for great TV,
With Fox picking up MLS and the World Cup to go along with the Champions League and FA Cup, their ability to broadcast the sport and make for engaging and professional TV is vital to the growth of soccer in the U.S. They're clearly making the sport a priority, with Lalas being the latest example. Hopefully they can turn that investment and priority into quality content.