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Fox Axes Host in Ad Boycott Over Soccer Stadium Deaths

Steven Cohen, the Fox Soccer Channel personality, has been replaced as a host of Fox Football Fone-In by Eric Wynalda, the former U.S. national team star, according to USA Today's soccer blog. The move came after a months-long advertising boycott called for by fans of Liverpool F.C. Cohen lost at least four sponsors of his Sirius XM radio show, World Soccer Daily, in the boycott. Liverpool supporters urged the blacklist after Cohen said on his radio show that unticketed Liverpool fans were to blame for 96 deaths in a crush at the Hillsborough stadium in 1989. The fans, and a government inquiry, say few unticketed fans attended the game and that a badly designed stadium and miscommunications among officials led to the deaths.

Among the sponsors siding with the fans were Heineken, FourFourTwo magazine, the Fado pub chain and Ruffneck Wear. More recently, Chelsea F.C. disowned Cohen, even though he is a longtime fan of the club.

Cohen's removal from the show came despite a combative apology and a correction he gave on July 16. It said:

I made a series of claims that were incorrect. I claimed on air there were 6 to 8 thousand ticketless fans and I also claimed those fans were the main cause of the tragedy. ... Those claims were incorrect and obviously hurtful to the victims of the tragedy. While there were a small number of ticketless fans there that fateful day, my closer reading of the Taylor report leads me to believe that the incident could have occurred regardless of their presence.
Cohen did not respond to a message requesting comment. USA Today said "Neither Wynalda nor Dermot McQuarrie, FSC's senior VP of production and programming and assistant general manager, would comment on Cohen or the Liverpool controversy."

Fox's press release on the personnel change doesn't mention Cohen. It remains unclear exactly why Cohen was replaced. Here are the possible scenarios:

  • Fox wanted to placate advertisers who felt his presence distracted from the show, particulary in the run-up to the World Cup in 2010.
  • Fox felt Cohen would have difficulty getting Chelsea players on the show following the club's abandonment of Cohen, or that the spat harmed relations between Fox and the English Premier League, upon whom it depends for live game broadcasts.
  • Cohen, as an owner of World Soccer Daily, which has contractual agreements with Fox, has removed himself from the spotlight in order to put the controversy behind him.
A statement from the Liverpool New York supporters' club said:
Steven Cohen chose to lie and smear the 96 Liverpool fans who died tragically at Hillsborough in 1989, seeing their deaths as a way to boost his ratings by denigrating them. Steven Cohen now finds himself in the position of being rejected by those in football whose opinions matter.

... FSC, like many others in the football world have realized just how toxic Steven Cohen and his odious lies are. Some of the biggest advertisers in the game - Heineken, FourFourTwo â€" have pulled their support of him and now FSC, the biggest broadcaster of soccer in the USA has done the same.

BNET's previous coverage of football advertising: