During the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Grant Wahl is going to be one busy dude.
Wahl will be a major contributor to Fox’s coverage in addition to his normal duties at Sports Illustrated, as well as being featured in segments on NPR throughout the tournament, which begins on June 14.
For Fox, Wahl will be appearing on World Cup Tonight, Fox Sports 1’s nightly studio show from Red Square in Moscow. While not on World Cup Tonight, Wahl will tackle everything from covering breaking news, providing analysis, and voicing and writing video essays. For Sports Illustrated, Wahl plans to have at least one written piece a day, usually a blog post discussing what happened the previous day. He’ll also record a daily podcast for SI from Russia with colleague Brian Straus.
Wahl has covered every World Cup since 1998, but in speaking to Awful Announcing last week in New York, Wahl said that this one will be vastly different for him because he’s covering it for a television rights holder for the first time.
“As a non rights holder in television, you have very little access to much of anything in terms of the stadium itself,” Wahl told AA. “The things I was doing for Fox after the U.S.’ games for example, in 2014 in Brazil, I would literally have to walk outside the stadium grounds and the Fox camera guys would meet me out there and we would shoot my stand-up out there.”
In 2014, Wahl would not only have to leave the stadium to do live shots after games, he would have to go a lot further than that, to a fence beyond the parking lot so as not to violate the rights holders’ exclusivity.
“What I would do after every game is— and I was also doing it for Sports Illustrated— I would go to the postgame press conference, I would go to the postgame mix zone where you’d interview players, and I would literally run out to this agreed upon area 15 minutes away where we would shoot for Fox,” Wahl said.
Wahl got his first experience doing television standups for Fox at the Euro 2012 tournament in Poland and Ukraine.
“[It] was the first time I’ve ever been asked to stand up in front of a camera and talk in three minutes, and you’re not being interviewed or anything like that,” Wahl said. Fox didn’t have the TV rights for it, so Wahl had to do these standups for the first time in his life while “there’s drunk fans trying to interrupt me.”
But now that Wahl works for a World Cup rights holder, things are way different.
“It’s kind of hilarious now to think about what I was doing after those games,” Wahl said. Working for Fox for this World Cup, will be “kind of like you were outside the club and now you’re in the club. From a TV perspective, it’s night and day.”
But unlike TV, there’s a different set of rules for writers, which Wahl has to navigate for Sports Illustrated. What Wahl plans on doing is using the enhanced access he’ll get with Fox to help his stories at SI.
“The thing I try and do working for both is, I try and do things that will make both my sets of bosses happy,” Wahl said, adding that the widely recognized names of Fox and SI definitely helps in these international settings. “So a lot of times I will use content for both. And a lot times, that actually helps with people I’m interviewing because it gives them an even larger audience.”
It also helps Wahl that he’s been working at both Fox and Sports Illustrated since 2012, so he’s used to shared content and access, including Champions League segments that aired on Fox that also went on SI.com “at the exact same time” as live TV.
“It’s been a really good sort of unofficial partnership, in a sense,” Wahl said.
One other aspect of Wahl’s World Cup coverage that will be dramatically different will be the absence of the U.S. Men’s National Team.
Since Wahl doesn’t have to travel around the host country following the U.S. team, it will allow him to be based in Moscow for nearly the entirety of the tournament, something Wahl is quite excited about.
“I get to stay in the same bed the whole time,” Wahl said. “The less I’m traveling around, the more time I have to work. In Brazil, I was on these 2 a.m. flights to the next U.S. game. And that’s not the case here.”
When you’re at a tournament for five or six weeks like the World Cup, Wahl said that as a journalist, your main goals are not to get sick, get enough sleep, eat well and exercise. Though Wahl would probably love to be able to cover USMNT at a World Cup, not having to travel around is definitely a bonus. And now that Fox holds the television rights, Wahl no longer has to sprint to a sketchy fenced area outside a stadium parking lot to provide analysis following a match at the world’s biggest sporting event.