Fox Sports' Rob Stone is the host of
Fox Indoor Soccer, which airs on Sunday nights at 6:30 p.m. ET on FS1.
This week's show features an extended interview with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and a chat with MLS commissioner Don Garber on the latest league plans to restart the season.
Normally, Stone would be the middle of the soccer season, working as Fox Sports' studio host of its coverage of MLS as well men's and women's national team games. During the college football season, he is the host of its Big Noon Kickoff show on Saturdays, and he has been the lead play-by-play announcer for Fox Sports' coverage of the Go Bowling!
In March, Stone headed up coverage of the Big East men's basketball tournament at New York's Madison Square Garden. Fox Sports decided two weeks out to do the pregame and postgame and halftime shows from its studios in Los Angeles rather than at the Garden. As it turned out, the opening quarterfinal game between top-seed Creighton and hometown St. John's was last major live sports game to tip off on television before American team sports shut down for the coronavirus. The game was called off at halftime.
ROB STONE: The Big East Tournament was the only tournament to go into the second day and was a noon show East Coast time. We did a brief defacto pregame show and every minute leading in, through the rehearsals and into that last commercial break, it was news that now the ACC was done, the Big Ten had already said, "We're done." There were a few conferences that literally seconds before we're going on the air had said, "We're not playing."
And the Big East was that lone one that said, "We are." And we went into tip-off and we did that half. But throughout that half there was just this vibe internally of, "I wonder if we're going to make it through this game," and at the commercial break and just seconds before we came on for the halftime show, it was. They're done. They're ending the game, they're ending the tournament.
We had to just react and pivot. And it had just been such a somber buildup for the days leading to it with tournaments being canceled and the threat of the NCAA Tournament and the general kind of fear that was gripping our country at that point. Ans then to see that last sport kind of seized from us. The NBA had been essentially taken away the night before. We were like on that last boat out of town looking for safety. We still had a game to provide, like everything's going to be okay. And then halfway through they said, "Oh, there's a big leak of the ship. You're done."
We're normally in our salesmen-type role and, and giving you reasons to watch and selling these games. We were instead reacting to the news that took place the night before and the news that was coming in literally by the second and none of it was uplifting. It was all somber yet we were still sending you off to a game that is going to be played. And it was a balance of bizarro emotions. And I think what was cool about it is that none of it was rehearsed. None of it was planned. None of this was in the rundown. You are getting our gut-pure reactions. It's rare that we get to just be a 100 percent fan.
Less than two months earlier, Stone was the studio host of Fox Sports' college basketball coverage when the news came that Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven other people were killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.
ROB STONE: We're in this business because we are fans and we do love sports and we do love this sport but we have to be reserved, we have to pull back at times and be composed, guiding conversations. But at that moment, it was much like when the Kobe Bryant passing news came in because we were live on the air, too. In fact, we were the first television network to report outside of TMZ online that Kobe Bryant had passed away and that was right in the middle of our college basketball day and we were sending it to a college basketball game.
It's just been a bizarro 2020 with sporting emotions that have been thrust at us that we barely have time to compute and digest. But you're asked to do that immediately and in front of a national audience. The only good part about it was that you got to see our true emotions and our true reaction is and how we really felt. When the Kobe Bryant news came down, it was three people fighting back tears, just trying to get it together.
When the Big East basketball tournament news came down, it was this final chapter of this dark shadow that had engulfed our country. We just said "Your last ray of sports lighting has been snuffed out and we don't know what it's going to return." It's just been challenges that are not in the broadcast journalism textbook, or the coach's manual. All of us are going through this for the first time and learning and reacting on the fly.
Jurgen Klopp's charismatic personality has made him one of the most universally popular personalities in soccer, and the tone he set as the
seriousness of the coronavirus became apparent in late February and early March earned him international respect.
ROB STONE: He still has that good tone. I get the sense that he's been able to manage the self-isolation and keep his normal upbeat self going. That big, beautiful white smile was still evident when we talked to him. As soon as we got our zoom call up and running, it wasn't like he was doing us a favor. He was genuinely interested in and intrigued in what was going on. He saw Alexi's name pop up and he immediately had some recall from a moment that those two had had in the past. And that turned into an impromptu moment that will air on the show on Sunday.
He's got a great attitude. He, like all of us, is just chomping to get back at the bit and he's ready to go. And he's got a plan in place while also being very respectful of everything that all of us are having to go through and endure right now. But he does not appear to be broken at all. Maybe that's because he knows he's just this close to a major, major milestone in celebration.
Like for everybody, there's still such an uncertainty about what the steps are going forward. And, obviously, for us who cover it, we're sort of a little bit helpless. But for those who want to get out on the field, from one day to the next, they don't know how far along they are. You didn't get a sense that weighs on him. There were certainly no timelines that he had in his brain and as much as you and I would love to gravitate towards a morsel of information that comes from a leader -- "Hey, this looks like the day or even a month that we can return" -- he had no real insight into that. But he did say, "Give me two weeks and I'm ready now. I'll play anywhere and just give me two weeks and I'm fine."
Liverpool, like all the other clubs I would assume, has been leaning heavily on the resources and the people that they have hired to make sure that these players are in optimum shape mentally and physically so that they're ready whenever that call, that Batman signal comes out to return to Anfield and put on the jersey and play.
One of the topics Klopp addressed was FIFA's directive to allow an increase from three to five substitutions per games.
ROB STONE: I think folks will be really excited to hear what he has to say about that because that's a nugget that slightly slid under the radar. Stu, Alexi and I had our most animated conversation probably for about a month of Indoor Soccer over the implementation of that rule and how it affects things. Is it right? Is it wrong? And frankly, the longevity of it. There's some that feel like this is going to be one of those things where when we've been granted this opportunity to potentially hit a reset button, that this is one of those things that's going to be reset and stay with us for awhile.
Sports will help set the tone of where the country is headed. If it returns, and how it returns.
ROB STONE: Every day is survive and advance. It's basically just trying to get to the next meal, right? Make it to breakfast and then let's hope the gap from breakfast to lunch is good. But I'm doing good. I'm just like everybody else. We're all eager to get back to work, return to some normalcy and get sports back. I think sports is going to be one of those great unifiers out there, pulling people together, whether it's at home watching the game with your family or on your phone or somewhere. People are just hankering for it as a sign of life, a sign of normalcy is coming. And frankly, as an outlet, people are bored playing backgammon and making arts and crafts. They need something to be uplifted by, right? And to raise their energy and their blood pressure and their emotions in a good way.
As a studio host, Stone will have a responsibility for setting the tone of the coverage.
ROB STONE: It will be interesting to see what general universal tone is at that point when we get there. Is it an uprising? Is it people have said this has gone on too long? Is it people say this is just the right amount of time? And then you need to find that the tone that hits there.
Frankly, we've been dealing with it the last month when we debuted Indoor Soccer. The first question when I saw Alexi was, " How are you doing?" You know, every time we had a guest it was, "How are you doing?" And I feel now we're beyond that point of, "How you're doing."
We all kind of know how we're doing, right? We've all been in this grind together and I think the viewer, the sports fan out there, just wants to see someone put a ball in the air, whether you're kicking it, shooting it, throwing it, hitting it. I think they just want that return to normalcy as fast as they can, rather than than words from a talking head.
The first major league that might return is Germany's Bundesliga, whose U.S. English-language media rights Fox Sports holds for the last season before coverage moves to ESPN. A decision by the German government is expected on Wednesday.
ROB STONE: In this day and age where we're all in a much smaller world -- and when I say all, I'm talking Major League Baseball, NHL, NBA, Major League Soccer, even college sports, NFL -- we are looking to the Bundesliga as being that first legit league, not just race cars or golfers, but an actual league with teams in different cities and lots of bodies and a lot of question marks.
I think everybody is looking at the Bundesliga as this green light to go ahead forward with our lives and go forward with our sporting lives. And how are they going to do it? I don't know if this would have been the case 10, 15 years ago when the view from American sports would be only, "We know how to do it and we know how to do it best."
I think there's this great respect now for international soccer and, and everybody's looking to see if the Bundesliga gets to provide that light for us and trigger that flame and let it spread. Across the Atlantic over here, everybody's watching the Bundesliga to see how did they do it. And if they did do it, it's time for us to really start putting acts in motion to get this thing going.
If MLS returns in 2020, it won't likely be to compete the entire 34-game regular season. Like other leagues and other sports, MLS will have to be flexible.
ROB STONE: I think a lot of sports out there are going to adapt this World Cup-type vibe or format when they return. I mean the World Cup is the most popular sporting event in the world for a reason. And you know, people have tried to claim the World Series, the World Series of poker.
Well, I think everybody's going to try to do the World Cup of hockey, the World Cup of NBA in the sense of they're going to try to adapt that type of tournament format with the truncated-type season. And I think MLS obviously would be particularly well suited to adapt some type of World Cup format, which would be great entertainment. It's a great way to market and sell it to people. A string of games across the day, like what you would do for a World Cup or even a Gold Cup.
Those who follow college athletics are intently watching what happens to college football, which is hugely popular across many parts of the country and provides the underpinning for budgets in the athletic departments at most Division I schools.
ROB STONE: It's a whole other debate, allowing students on campus. That's the priority. We're there for academics. But I do worry that if football is taken away from this country, the reaction will be incredibly negative and it will be seen as a failure that we weren't able to handle this and manage this in time. I think the NFL is in a better situation to deal with it. They have so much more control over their players and their product and what is going on.
My gut is college football is going to be back. We are planning on it being back. I have got a great text chain with my Big Noon Kickoff guys and, and we're constantly talking about football and what's going on and, and how we're doing. Our goal is that we're back there with you in August or September and if they decide to move the seasons -- because everything is flexible this day and age -- if they decide to move football to a spring season, we'll be there for it and we'll be embracing it and can't wait.
Stone played soccer at Colgate University and entered sports broadcasting right out of college. One of the sports he is best known for covering is bowling.
ROB STONE: I think there are a handful of sports that are primed at this moment to jump into the fray and do things really intelligently and uniquely and grab a piece of that sports pie that maybe they haven't owned for awhile or never owned. I think singles tennis should be back and ready to go. Golf should be very easy to figure out.
I agree bowling is another sport that Fox Sports would love to see return. It's gotta be done intelligently and properly, but again, there's such an appetite out there for live sports or something new. We've all seen all the great games already and the documentaries are fantastic and the e-sports are holding us for the time being, but we need some pure true competition that is fresh and new to us. Bowling is one of those sports that's actually really situated well to come into the fray earlier than most of the "big boys" are.
Photo: John Jones/Icon Sportswire