[TELEVISION WATCH] As Rob Stone tells it, he's leaving his professional family at ESPN for the sake of his real family, i.e., wife Lynn and their four children, as well as a prestigious position at FOX Sports.
"ESPN has been my professional family for over 15 years and I’ve made a lot of friendships there, which made it a very difficult decision,” said Stone in a telephone interview Tuesday, a few hours after FOX announced his hiring. “But in the end, it really came down to: I have to do what’s best for my family, and have my family actually have some interaction with me, rather than on the phone."
He is moving from Florida to Los Angeles, where FOX is based, to take over as lead studio host for all soccer programming on FOX Sports, which will include stints on the main network as well as FOX Soccer. He will debut on the main network Jan. 22, when FOX screens the English Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester United as a lead-in to its coverage of the NFL playoffs.
“They are all-in,” says Stone of FOX Sports, which paid a reported $400 million to acquire U.S. English-language media rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, and for the last two years has shown the European Champions League final on its main channel. “They’re putting EPL games on FOX national. They’ve seen the ratings. They’ve made everything about the sport a priority and it’s exciting to be involved.”
He admits the grind of extensive travel to work 80 to 90 events a year while trying to raise four young children, age 2 to 6, played a part in his decision. Since rejoining ESPN in 1997, he has covered numerous sports and events in addition to soccer programming that included MLS games, studio segments, and the last four World Cups in various roles.
“I was on the road Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, and was working New Year’s Day,” he says of his recent schedule. “I was just pounded with work and travel and it just kind of hit me: I’ve have an opportunity to surround myself with and embed myself in a sport I care passionately about and have played my whole life, work for a great company, live in a wonderful city and be around my family more. It all slowly added up to: this is the right decision.”
After captaining the Colgate soccer team and graduating in 1991, Stone joined ESPN as a production assistant, then worked for TV stations in Georgia and Florida before going back to ESPN. With FOX’s greatly increased investment in international soccer has come a rare opportunity.
“FOX is totally invested in me, too,” he says. “I’m not going to lie: ego had a play in it as well. They came out of the gates saying, ‘We want you to be the face of our soccer coverage, and if it’s an important event on any of our networks and it’s soccer, you’re doing it.’ That and the possible opportunity to do other sports on the network sealed the deal.”
Sealing the deal will require the Stones to put their Florida home on the market Friday and start house-hunting in Southern California on Monday. He hopes the family can move sometime in February. Those are formidable tasks in themselves, yet signify the magnitude of his decision.
“It’s exciting, it’s daunting,” he says. “It was very, very difficult to leave my ESPN family but I was vested fully when I made my decision to move to FOX and now I’m even more excited. It’s an opportunity to work with the sport that I love and to spend more time with my wife and kids.”