Fox Sports House Brings Soccer at SXSW

Stu Holden on coming to Austin, the World Cup, and more

The Fox Sports House opens on the first day of SXSW, launching Fox’s 100-day countdown to the June 14 World Cup kickoff. Last week I got a chance to talk to Stu Holden about what Fox is hoping to do here, and also about the World Cup, U.S. soccer, the Columbus Crew, and more.

Stu Holden playing against Belgium

The Fox Sports House will be open to the public from 11am-8pm daily, Friday-Monday, March 9-12, at the Hangar Lounge, 318 Colorado. It’ll host the SXSW Sports Kickoff party, various panel conversations with sports personalities including sports analyst and former U.S. national team star Stu Holden, plus launch events for a couple of soccer documentaries: the Fox series Phenoms, and Nossa Chape, the story of the Brazilian team Chapecoense, their tragic plane crash in 2016, and the rebuilding since then, which is debuting at the SXSW Film Fest. See the full schedule here.

We started off talking about the upcoming World Cup, both on the field and off. Holden talked a bit about Fox’s “great” Features department, and how he was looking forward to Fox’s first World Cup – and his own first as a broadcaster – and to seeing and talking about Russia, and about the many individual stories that will unfold over the course of the competition. About the 2026 U.S./Mexico/Canada joint World Cup bid, he said: “I don’t think anyone internally ever thought that this was a total slam dunk. … It felt like an inclusive, united, and very, very strong bid. … Well, Morocco have come in, and … if Morocco gets the block vote from Africa, and they pick up some countries here and there in Asia, or parts of Europe, it’s going to make this very interesting, and I think where the United States has a little bit of uncertainty is that we live in a political climate currently that is less inclusive and more exclusive, and I think that was something that is a little bit troubling, when you start to think about the perception around the world, and that this is being voted on by different countries around the world. So, I certainly think that the bid that we have currently is the strongest bid, and would be the best as far as what it would do for the game on this side of the world, but also globally, because of the amount of revenue that you would get. … So, we’ll see. It’s going to be a really interesting couple of months, and I know that everybody’s working really hard to try and drive this thing over the line, but … we’ll see. Fingers crossed, right?”

Asked about the recent vote for a new president of U.S. Soccer, Holden said he likes new president Carlos Cordeiro; he thinks he “was the guy that could steady the ship, but also change the direction the ship was headed in. … The U.S. men’s national team not qualifying for the World Cup has exposed some breakdowns in the process, and exposed some areas where the federation is very weak.” And speaking about that failure, Holden said, “I still think that that group we had – that group of players – was more than good enough to qualify for the World Cup. It’s one of the biggest disappointments in U.S. soccer history.”

Toward the end, I asked what he thought about the current drama in Austin, regarding the Columbus Crew’s attempted move here.

Stu Holden: Look, I love Austin … it’s a really forward-looking city, and I think, there’s still some question I think about, how would the soccer fan base be, and how invested would people in Austin, to get behind this team. Everything is there to make sense that this would be a slam dunk, in my view, as far as the demographic that Major League Soccer is going after, the younger audience, an emerging sport like soccer in our country – I just, I hate the way that this has all happened, with the Columbus Crew, a founding team in Major League Soccer, a team that has such a rich history, it’s just been ugly from the beginning of the way that, an owner that currently owns this team in a certain city, is looking to relocate while still in that city, and, you know, is still trying to figure things out with the city of Austin – so, it’s ever-changing, between stadium sites, and is the city getting behind it – I think they had, I think, a pretty strong statement, when Anthony Precourt came out recently and said that they’re continuing to work with the City of Austin to secure the right site. I don’t know what it’s going to come down to for the City of Austin, as far as the financial aspect, or what it brings to the community, or convincing the legislators in the city that this is a good thing for Austin, because it certainly seems that Anthony Precourt is set on going there, and I don’t see any way back from this for him, so, it’s almost, I think you have to go all in, because if you remain in Columbus, after this, you’re not going to be welcome in many restaurants in town. And I think that the people that have been diehard fans that have been lifelong Crew fans, have rightfully been left feeling like they’ve just been walked all over and used. And if this works out in the right way for the City of Austin, I think it’d be a phenomenal thing for the city. And, yeah, we’ll see. How do you feel about it? Do you think they’re going to get it over the line?

Nick Barbaro: Boy, I don’t know. You know, the stadium thing has been a problem for probably decades. I mean, people have wanted to move up, and there’s nowhere to go to. I don’t know if they can find a place that’ll work for them. I have no idea. But it really does seem like he’s burned his bridges in Columbus, which is really a shame. I, and I think most soccer fans down here, are kind of ambivalent. We all want to have a team, and that’s great, but it’s really sad to be stealing it from, like you said, one of the founding original MLS teams, and one that’s had strong support for a long time, and all that. So it’s bittersweet. … I doubt it’ll be any clearer by the time you get down here next week …

SH: No, I doubt it; I think this one’s going to be dragging on for a few more months yet.

NB: Anything you want to add?

SH: I just think we’re excited for South By, and to showcase some of the stuff that we’re going to be doing at the World Cup. I know that we’re going to be having a Twitter 30-minute pregame show before every match day, which I think is a really cool partnership that we’re doing, a platform that I use a lot, and then, just excited to be down there, hoping that a lot of people come by and check us out at the Fox Sports House there.

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Fox Sports House, Stu Holden, Soccer, World Cup, Fox, SXSW 2018

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