Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Where's The Ball??
If you're a soccer fan in the U.S., it's almost a given that you've watched a game on the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network; also known as ESPN. ESPN is the dominant force in United States sports scene, and has now become nearly the only option for comprehensive sports coverage in the States. While ESPN has done an admirable job in spotlighting lesser-known sports and pushing them to the forefront (for however long they feel they can profit), their coverage of soccer is infuriating to say the least.
The subject of ESPN's soccer coverage is one that causes much consternation and anger for me. Their commitment to the "ESPN formula" and blatant commercialization of anything they're involved in has nearly ruined many a match. Countless times I've sat in front of my television wondering, "did they really just block half the screen with a Sierra Mist commercial?" In addition, their unnecessarily gargantuan scoreboard, the ever-present ESPN ticker, and their propensity to post inconsequential stat graphics that seem to cover the screen at the most inopportune of times is enough to infuriate any reasonably level-headed and erudite viewer. What's more, ESPN's insistence on using commentators with no footballing background as well as pundits who have a proven background in idiocy (see Tommy Smith) further detracts from their broadcasts. On top of these slights, ESPN continually refuses to air back-to-back broadcasts of UEFA Champions League matches in the US, instead opting to show year-old rodeo replays, old World Series of Poker reruns and the like.
In my opinion, the problems with ESPN's soccer coverage stems from their attempt to pander to "casual" soccer fans and their unwillingness to stray from their rigid formula. Instead of treating soccer as an established sport (like football or basketball), ESPN has watered its coverage down to the point where nearly every soccer term is dumbed down and/or Americanized and the analysis is elementary at best. Every attempt is made to draw in new viewers with superficial content such as ridiculous replay techniques and "fancy" camera angles that only serve to distract from the gameplay. By ignoring the core fanbase, ESPN has made for an incredibly poor viewing experience in comparison to other networks such as Fox Soccer Channel and GolTV (which are only available with a more expensive TV network package). Furthermore, because ESPN owns the rights to almost all major international footballing competitions shown in the U.S., they have no reason to change their coverage for fear of losing viewers.
The simple use of a see-through scoreboard, ticker and stat blocks would make ESPN's coverage infinitely better. Their tendency to post random facts and stats about the game and it's participants would not have the same negative effect if it was possible to continue to see the action during this intrusion. Moreover, hiring commentators who actually understand the game and can communicate effectively would be an even further step forward, perhaps even taking the network into mediocrity.
Posted by A West at 9:33 AM