Sunday, July 22, 2007

ESPN Misses an Opportunity to Score

Huge fanfare around the arrival of Beckham to American soccer. Hopefully that equated to many more viewers for a Saturday night friendly match between Beckham's new team the LA Galaxy and English Premier League powerhouse Chelsea FC. We're talking a potential market of millions.

In every interview and clip - Beckham did his job. He was masterly portrayed as an athlete who was likable, humble, and genuine. Just the way Americans like their stars. (Cockiness works for a while, but there is no lament when cocky players get their comeuppance). Good job Beckham. We want you to do well here.

But LA Galaxy and ESPN shot wide and missed. The first sour note I heard was when they were interviewing the LA Galaxy manager - his comments were about how this would "strengthen the brand." Huh? That's not what a soccer fan wants to hear. We want to hear how bringing in world class players will elevate the level of play. We want to see a better quality game with world class teams. The reason my 16 year old son and I watch (and pay for) live feeds of European matches is because the level of play, the beauty of the game is so much better.

That's where ESPN blew it. Soccer is "the beautiful game." Joga bonito in Nike ad parlance. But the announcers were thoroughly lost. They were talking about other stuff WHILE THE GAME WAS BEING PLAYED! Then ESPN was cutting away to interview Hollywood stars WHILE THE GAME WAS BEING PLAYED!...As a soccer fan I was frustrated in my attempt to watch the game. That's why I tuned in. To WATCH THE GAME!

Can you imagine the network cutting away during a NFL football game while the ball is in play? Or putting up a split screen showing a commercial while a baseball player is fielding a hit? Completely unacceptable in those sports, but somehow okay in televised soccer. The problem is that American sportscasters don't understand (or love) the game.

Soccer fans are fans of the game. It has taken me some time to appreciate each touch of the ball as play. Attacks are developed through passes, speed, and position. Defense envelopes, blocks, and intercepts, then immediately shifts to the offense. The action on a soccer field is constant. If you are going to provide commentary - provide commentary about the game at hand. Explain to the novice/potential soccer fan what is going on on the field. Tell them when you see a beautiful move. (In a European soccer match, you get huge cheers at well executed footwork at midfield, not just crosses and shots - the only thing the US announcers seem to pay attention to). The game commentary should not be all about stats, records, potential. The game commentary should be about the game at hand.

I realize this presents a challenge for the American broadcast model. It not a new challenge. But if the want to create new markets, they need to understand why soccer fans watch soccer.

Otherwise it's back to GolTV.

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