The Sweeper: The Brits Takeover ESPN for the World Cup

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ESPN has decided to go all British for its lead voices in all 64 World Cup games this summer on American television this summer, and Steve Davis is not happy about it. In an eloquent rant, Davis comments that:

I’m on this British accent thing again because you guys just announced your lineup for World Cup broadcasts. Talk about a kick in the nads to the American soccer establishment! Here’s the opening line from your announcement:

“ESPN’s World Cup telecasts will have a British accent.

“Adrian Healey, Derek Rae and Ian Darke have been hired by ESPN for its U.S. broadcasts at this year’s World Cup and will join Martin Tyler to give the network British play-by-play announcers for all 64 games beginning June 11.”

Man, that’s a fine “How Do You Do” for Yankee viewers …and announcers.

In an open letter to ESPN, Davis asks “couldn’t you guys at ESPN squeeze an American voice into the play-by-play lineup?  Is American soccer such a craphole wasteland that a guy like JP Dellacamera can’t get a bite of the play-by-play mic?”

Dellacamera is certainly hard done by here. Most odd of all, as EPL Talk has commented, is that United States games (including against England) will not have an American voice as lead commentator. The only American voice we will hear is the dull John Harkes.

What Davis doesn’t mention is the disappointing coverage provided by ESPN at the previous World Cup behind the microphone, led by baseball guy Dave O’Brien, as this New York Times article from July 2006 reminds us:

At the beginning of this tournament, we received so many comments from readers complaining about the ESPN and ABC announcers that we had to ask you to stop sending them in. It was true, however, that like many of you, I found it so hard to listen to their game commentary that I switched to Univision — even though I was describing matches live and needed a steady flow of information. It felt as if whatever information I was getting through half-understood Spanish was superior to what I was getting on the English-language telecasts.

After a few days, however, the ESPN and ABC announcers had gotten better. They had stopped shoehorning trivia facts, interesting sidelights and random statistics into the play-by-play and color commentary, and best of all, they had stopped making tortuous analogies to sports like baseball and basketball to “explain” soccer to their American audience.

This was true for all the announcing teams (although the English/Irish team of Adrian Healey and Tommy Smyth were getting it right pretty much from the start). Shep Messing, who had been particularly awful the first couple of days with constant explanatory references to baseball while doing color to Glenn Davis’s play by play, must have heard the complaints and thankfully kept it to soccer thereafter. Two other teams, JP Dellacamera and John Harkes, and Rob Stone and Robin Fraser, were straightforward and even insightful from a fairly early point. Sometime during the World Cup’s second week, I found myself gravitating back to ESPN.

Which brings us to the lead announcing team, Dave O’Brien and Marcelo Balboa. O’Brien in particular has come under a heavy barrage of criticism for his lack of feel for soccer, which is down to his being a baseball announcer who didn’t follow soccer until a few months ago. Some American soccer fans were upset with ESPN’s choice of O’Brien even before the tournament started, with one starting a petition to remove him in favor of a career soccer announcer, and certainly once the tournament got under way, the reaction has been consistently negative from fans in general, as anyone reading the comments sections to this blog’s live game reports can tell.

All true, though for my money Marcelo Balboa was worse; so inane and inaccurate was his commentary that I had to institute a house-rule to all visitors to my house for World Cup games not to point out his every annoying comment, so we might be able to talk about something else at some point. In any case, it’s pretty clear (and this was obvious in their Euro 2008 coverage as well) ESPN is committed to not repeating that mistake by going with more experience.

At the same time I think Davis is still right that it’s a shame ESPN could not find room for one talented American soccer commentator (rather than attempting another Dave O’Brien transplant from another sport), and Dellacamera would have done a decent enough job.

All things considered, though, it’s going to be much easier for every fan of the sport to listen to Martin Tyler in 2010 than it was to Dave O’Brien in 2006.

Then again, I have (the remnants of) a British accent, so perhaps this isn’t my place to speak.

Quick Hits

  • Cardiff City’s Supporters’ Trust has released a statement about the club’s financial crisis, issuing some alarm about the way the club is run following court proceedings: “It is obvious that our beloved football club is in a wretched financial state and yet there appears to be none of the drastic cost-cutting measures we have seen at other clubs who have encountered similar problems. Instead, it seems the only remedies being offered by the Cardiff City board are the hopes of substantial foreign investment or promotion to the Premiership.”
  • A sneak peak at the new MLS website. That’s MLSsoccer.com with two Sssss, then. We’ll have our own review of one MLS club’s new website up sometime this week. Bet you can’t guess which one.
  • Kinda wish someone would do this for every city in the US: Football in Miami and Beyond has an excellent roundup of all the media coverage out there for the sport in Miami.

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

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