Friday, June 15, 2018 marked a momentous day in American soccer broadcasting. No, it wasn't the first full day of play in a Men's World Cup without the Unites States in over 30 years. It wasn't the match between Egypt and Uruguay to see if Egypt could bear up without superstar Mo Salah nor the much-anticipated showdown between Spain and Portugal. Instead, it occurred in the match between those two games, when Aly Wagner became the first female play-by-play live analyst for a Men's World Cup match on American television. Wagner will eventually call matches featuring the favorites of the tournament and teams more familiar to American viewers, but it is perhaps fitting that her barrier-breaking debut occurs between Morocco and Iran. On the one hand, the game is set to be the also-ran match on a day with significant stars shining in the earlier and later matches. Placing Wagner and her co-analyst Derek Rae on the minor game of the day works to mitigate initial resistance to change. On the other hand, the irony of having a woman call the play of a team whose country just arrested its leading female human-rights attourney, Nasrin Sotoudeh, and in which women are banned from stadiums is undeniable and potentially powerful.
Wagner, however, is not the only woman kicking through the glass ceiling this Men's World Cup. Wagner beats Telemundo's Viviana Vilas to the mantel of "first" by only a day. Yet, for all the ballyhooing around the announcements of their roles, there has been little promotional fanfare from Fox for breaking the "glass microphone" for the Men's World Cup. From official Fox social media, until the hour before Wagner's debut only this PR promo has been tweeted, part of a series of videos for the entire commentary team, both game and studio analysts. There was no mention of the upcoming historic first throughout the Egypt-Uruguay match or pre-game programming. Only just before the game did promotion come from Fox social media: the Fox Sports PR account and lead analyst Alexi Lalas' account. Fox, it seems, is largely uninterested in marketing this "first." While commendable in its normalization of female analysts, I can't help but think it is also about minimizing the backlash that always follows female broadcasters in men's sports spaces. Just ask Beth Mowins, the first woman to call Monday Night Football.