For coverage of D.C. United’s match Sunday against the New England Revolution, Fox Sports has assigned a former U.S. national soccer team defender to handle analysis and a onetime college player with years of sports broadcasting experience to do the play-by-play. The sideline reporter has worked MLS games since 2005.
Based on those portfolios, FS1’s presentation from Audi Field won’t differ much from other matches.
This one, however, is unique, because for the first time on the national broadcast of a U.S. men’s pro soccer match – and, it is believed, for the first time in any of the country’s five major men’s professional team sports leagues – the announcing team will be entirely female.
Lisa Byington will call the evening match. Danielle Slaton will join her in the booth and Katie Witham will work at field level.
“I’m excited to be a part of history but looking forward to the day when it isn’t so historic,” Slaton said this week. “We’ll just go out and do our jobs like we do every day and keep the game as the main focus and try to have some fun.”
All spoke about the significance of the all-female crew and how they hoped it would continue breaking down barriers for women interested in pursuing announcing jobs in men’s sports leagues. They all cited advances in the business, led by the likes of Beth Mowins (NFL), Doris Burke (NBA), Jessica Mendoza (Major League Baseball) and Aly Wagner (2018 World Cup in Russia).
Doing their job well, they emphasized, would outweigh their gender.
“It’s an honor to be a part of this and be able to take a step forward,” Witham said. “And it’s my hope that, after this game is said and done, nobody will be talking about it, because then they will not have looked at us as females calling a male professional soccer game. They will be looking at us like play-by-play, analysts and reporters covering an event.”
To varying degrees, all played soccer and have covered the sport professionally.
Witham played at Capital University – a Division III program in Columbus, Ohio – and began her broadcast career in earnest in 2005 as the sideline reporter for MLS’s Columbus Crew. She has been affiliated with Fox Sports’s soccer coverage for nine years, including national team matches. She has also worked games for the Big Ten Network and contributed to MLS’s digital operations.
Slaton, a former Santa Clara University star, made 43 appearances (26 starts) for the U.S. national team between 1999 and 2003. She joined the Big Ten Network in 2010 and, since 2014, has worked college, pro and international matches for multiple outlets, including Fox Sports at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada. In 2016, MLS’s San Jose Earthquakes hired her for sideline reporting and analysis.
“I’ve been the biggest fan of Danielle for a long time,” Witham said. “The way she sees a game, she sees things others don’t see.”
Byington has the least experience with pro soccer. Her primary assignments are football and basketball, and last fall, she became the first woman to do play-by-play for a Big Ten Network football game.
She did play two seasons of soccer (along with four of basketball) at Northwestern and has worked NCAA soccer and National Women’s Soccer League games.
The all-female crew, Byington said, is “something we have talked about and agree it’s unfortunate this opportunity has taken so long to happen. It would be silly to ignore the gender discussion. The more you can put women in untraditional situations to succeed, you move closer to making that the norm. We are getting closer to the point where a moment like Sunday really won’t be that significant anymore in our society.”
Skepticism about a woman calling a men’s game, in any sport, has begun to recede, all three said. Yet some fans continue to doubt a woman’s capacity to provide accurate and insightful coverage.
“One of the first things you get as a female is: ‘Does she really even know what she is talking about?’ “ Witham said. “The fact we all played to some degree, we all know the sport, but even more so, we all appreciate it and are fans of the game.”
As for forming chemistry Sunday, Chicago-based Byington has worked with both Slaton (Bay Area) and Witham (Columbus) at the Big Ten Network. Byington and Slaton this week did an Under-20 Women’s World Cup match, being held in France, off TV monitors. And Slaton and Witham have not worked together – they are often in the same role in different parts of the country every weekend – but have run in similar circles for years.
“If you can do a good job calling a game and being insightful and bringing knowledge to the fans,” Slaton said, “it doesn’t really matter whether you are a man or woman.”