Jun 25, 2008

An eventful day for soccer media

First, the TV transmission of the Germany-Turkey Euro semifinal goes dark for unexplained reasons. Many, myself included, initially (and, it should be pointed out, falsely) blamed ESPN2 for the blackout. It wouldn't have been the first time the folks in Bristol messed up big time with soccer coverage. But ESPN had nothing to do with it. There were no TV pictures anywhere!

To make matters even more bizarre, this was an event taking place in Switzerland, a country renowned for its efficiency (along with a few other things, but we don't need to get into that right now). With the other semifinal and final taking place in Austria, this was the country's signature moment of the tournament. UEFA blamed electrical storms in Vienna, which is a perfectly reasonable argument until you realize Basel is hundreds of miles away from the Austrian capital. No wonder the BBC is lodging formal complaints with UEFA tomorrow (good luck with that one, folks).

The Euro tournament, for all its charms (and don't get me wrong, some of the games have been great) is kind of like the midterm elections in American politics. It gets media attention and people discuss it around the water cooler, but ultimately you know it's just a warm-up for the main event that takes place two years later. So it really is a testament to the growth of the sport in this country that the Euro is being taken seriously by U.S. media. The final will be broadcast on ABC as part of a doubleheader with the LA Galaxy and DC United squaring off first. The Globe and Mail, for one, is calling ESPN's decision to broadcast all of the Euro games revolutionary (yeah I know the Globe and Mail is Canadian, which is not American).

American soccer pundits (yes we have some) have even begun debating media strategies. The L.A. Times' Grahame Jones thinks the doubleheader is a bad idea because it will expose the inferior quality of play in MLS. Du Nord begs to differ because "it will show that MLS is not that far off from the top squads of the world."

Personally, I think they're both wrong. Du Nord because he doesn't think MLS is "that far off" and Jones because he thinks a U.S. audience will actually notice the difference. Make no mistake about it: MLS is definitely inferior, sometimes even vastly inferior, to the top leagues in the world. This is especially true if you watch the defensive play, which is at times nothing short of appalling. Demonstrating his naivete, Du Nord holds up last summer's New York versus L.A. match as a shining example of MLS' prowess, calling it "as good as anything I saw." Well, I saw the game too, and while I enjoyed the goals as much as the next guy, I did not exactly feel like somebody had put me in a timewarp and transported me back to the 1970 World Cup semifinals (okay fine, I wasn't actually around for that. I'm not that old. But I did watch the France v. Brazil quarterfinal match at the 1986 World Cup (on TV), and that was as good as anything I have ever seen and likely ever will see. I have a feeling those who witnessed it will back me up on this). Because seriously, going back to the LA v NY game here, if either team had a clue about basic defending, we would only have seen a fraction of the nine goals we witnessed.

But I think this proves my point, that U.S. soccer fans, even knowledgeable ones like Du Nord, are still naive when it comes to the intricacies of the sport. I don't think very many of them will pick up on the shoddy (or worse) defending, the inconsistent passing, poor first touches and lack of creativity from the run of play that are the hallmark of your typical MLS game. For that matter they probably won't notice how the Euro final is superior in all these areas, or recognize that these qualities are standard fare for the world's top leagues. So I don't think ABC is taking a huge gamble, as Jones posits.

Unfortunately it's not all progress to report. The Boston Globe's Frank Dell'Apa has been taken off the New England Revolution beat and tasked with following the Boston Celtics instead (didn't the Celtics' season just end? What is there to follow, exactly? Okay, the NBA draft. Anything else?) For those not in the know, Dell'Apa has been one of the best MLS beat writers since its inception and probably the only one who has done any consistent, quality reporting on the Revs this past decade. It is a sad day in MLS because the Revs are one of the most media-unfriendly teams not only in the league (and organized sports in general) but probably just about anywhere (as somebody who has spent a lot of time dealing with flacks at investment banks you can trust me on this one). The team would truly have benefited from Dell'Apa's coverage. But all is not lost yet. The Globe's sports editor, Joe Sullivan, may be in a position to put Dell'Apa back where he belongs.


  1. Interesting article! I couldn't believe the technical difficulties too. 3 times! What do you think of the commentators Andy Gray and the other ones on ESPN during the games?

    I prefer listening to Fox Soccer Channel's Christopher Sullivan or even ESPN deportes. More game analysis, less time being quiet and little talk about the Premiership.

  2. I usually either mute the sound or watch the Spanish channel (which I barely understand). I watched this game (the parts of it that were actually broadcast) at a bar and they had it muted.