FanDuel - WFBC

June 27, 2006

Prefer a language you don't understand over Dave O'Brien?: Well, you're not alone. New York Times' world cup blog discusses ABC/ESPN decision to please the short-attention-span non-soccer-watching American market at the expense of football die-hards.

posted by scully to soccer at 03:28 PM - 51 comments

At least O'Brien and Balboa are in Germany, which is more than can be said for the rest of the ABC/ESPN commentators. Article is spot-on in my opinion.

posted by scully at 03:31 PM on June 27

Heh, I'm one of those people that watch the World Cup on Univision. I don't care what they are saying, they make it sound so darn exciting. And really, sport, for me, is just entertainment; an escape from the real world for a scant few hours.

posted by NoMich at 03:42 PM on June 27

Ah...the pace of the game. Maybe the first thing that should be considered when doing any sportscasting. Baseball has a lot of time to talk about obscure statistics and the last time this guy hit a pitch by this guy and was grounded out on the third base line by this other guy who has been playing since this time and such and such. And a swing.......And a hit. Doesn't really work for soccer. I understand the idea that they want everyone watching to understand what's going on, but isn't it easier for people to watch together and explain rules to each other? I mean, sure, it's better that my wife asks me about american football when my team's winning, but I still try to answer her questions anyway. When are the guys at the top of the networks going to figure out that every audience is a niche audience?

posted by Thisguy at 03:46 PM on June 27

From the article; ...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. Maybe the US needs to to send anouncers to some of the overseas leagues as well as players. Really good article, the breakdown of the different teams of anouncers is (as terrapin puts it) spot-on.

posted by Folkways at 03:53 PM on June 27

I switched to univision too and I am far from the die hard soccer fan that O'Brien is so eager to dis.

posted by ursus_comiter at 04:00 PM on June 27

Gol!!!!!!!!!!!!!

posted by igottheblues at 04:09 PM on June 27

The article is absolutely right. ESPN is wrong if they think that average fans want to hear all of this crap. You learn about the game by watching the game, not hearing lessons during the game. I have been watching Univision during the World Cup. I regularly mute broadcasts of other sporting events because they are terrible. It is not just sports though. The dumbing down news is commonplace as well. I have come to the conclusion that either the great majority of Americans are idiots or media conglomerates think the great majority of Americans are idiots - I don't know which.

posted by bperk at 04:24 PM on June 27

Thankfully, TSN-HD/SportsNet-HD up here in Canuckistan broadcast the English BBC feed (I believe), so we get one of those fantastic solo announcers every game (there are 3 of them). I never remember their names, but I so love listening to them describe the game. Like I've said before, it's like he's having a conversation with the viewer about the game.

posted by grum@work at 05:44 PM on June 27

In Britain we have the commentator and an "expert" (normally manager or ex-player) for the game and a presenter and a team of pundits (normally footballers or managers, either past or present) for the pre-game, half-time and full-time analysis. For example, the "first-team" for the big games on the BBC is: Commentator - John Motson (dreadful and past it) Expert - Mark Lawrenson (ex-Liverpool plaer and just dreadful never had it) Presenter - Gary Lineker (passable. I assume I don't have to explain who he is) Pundit 1 - Martin O'Neill (ex-manager - good) Pundit 2 - Leonardo (Brazilian ex-player - very good) Pundit 3 - Ian Wright (ex-player - woeful) So it ain't all sweetness and light at the birthplace of football either.

posted by squealy at 06:23 PM on June 27

And I forgot that Pundit 1 should be Alan Hanson (ex-player) who is good enough and shuffle Ian Wright out of the equation.

posted by squealy at 06:35 PM on June 27

Have you guys seen the after-game shows on Univision though? Hot women with large breasts dancing all over the screen. I watched the England game on Univision and I was amused that the announcer kept referring to Beckham as "spice men." I'm really pissed at ESPN's coverage though, they'll show a replay of something over and over WHILE THE GAME IS GOING ON.

posted by v3rity at 06:38 PM on June 27

Dave Obrain(mispelled on purpose) mispronounced at least 20 player's names. Any player not sporting an anglo name was mispronounced over and over again to the point where it sounded like he was doing it on purpose. Balboa's just awful. For Christ's sake, how many times can one person say the words "but still" in 90 minutes. Well, quite a bit, if you're Balboa. Like 20 times a game. I also switched to Univision, though the reception is not quite is good. The gripe for me is why didn't ESPN think about hiring commentators who know the damn game?!?! It's like they didn't care and that pisses me off.

posted by pauleye at 07:13 PM on June 27

I am Bilingual (Spanish + English) so I watch it on Univision (A Spanish Local Channel) I would rather have Chris Berman Comentating for ESPN and I hate him My Team the Netherlands or Paises Bajos (Spanish, Dont know why thats the name) lost to Portugal I was surprised with the 16 Yellows and the 4 Reds in the game and Soccer Should be Watch in Spanish, Have you noticed Most of the Countries in the World Cup are Latin Ot of the Teams Currently in the Cup I am going for France USA Sucks I am glad they didnt Win a single game Oh and also there are no Comercials during the game play they only have comercials Beafore, After, and During Halftime Also on Univision (OOny-Vee-seeon)they dont show have as many replays during the game

posted by your-money9388 at 07:40 PM on June 27

Balboa is dreadful...always tries to turn the situation around to himself- what an ego. "When we used to defend...", "back in '94...", "when I used to play (at the highest level)...", "I always played like..." Has anyone else actually puked just from hearing his stories or am I the only one?

posted by urall cloolis at 07:40 PM on June 27

We made the switch to Univision last weekend and aren't looking back. Balboa sucks. Plus you get things like the spanish broadcasts occasionally dropping an English phrase...during the Portugal/Netherlands fightmatch we got "Welcome to the Jungle" and "A time to make friends."

posted by mbd1 at 07:58 PM on June 27

Thankfully I speak Spanish too. I have always watched soccer on Univision. The announcers there sound more exciting and more into the game. They actually know what they are talking about. Soccer to them matters more than a lot of other things.They are not anouncers for other sports; “I’m a baseball guy,” says O’Brien, who calls ESPN baseball.”

posted by STUNNER at 08:36 PM on June 27

They should get the XM Radio World Cup team to do these games. Their call of Germany's 1-0 win over Poland was incredible, and they're completely in the moment.

posted by rcade at 08:37 PM on June 27

I'm lingual and a half as my Chinese language skills continue to develop. While visiting a friend in Shanghai during the first round he, (from Scotland), would turn his laptop to the sun.co.uk's live audio. Despite not fielding a team and the obscene times of day the matches are live, China is crazy about the World Cup. Everyone is talking about 'Shě jič bēi' or World Cup.

posted by geekyguy at 08:53 PM on June 27

i hate how espn and ABC'S coverage will have a huge diplay at the start of the game, during the game, and so on thta blocks all the action,...like why not show the starting lineup before the match starts instead of blocking the action to show the lineup?

posted by stevenrb100 at 10:03 PM on June 27

Univision does rule for soccer (futbol) for me because I'm too cheap to pay for the programming that passes for cable here in Dallas.

posted by sickleguy at 11:05 PM on June 27

Down here in Australia we have had to put up with know nothing AFL and rugby sports commentators 'trying' to understand football. You know the kind of thing - "I appreciate the skill, but I can't get excited about it.". Good, thanks for nothing and just shut up, then. However, the broadcasts themselves are on free to air SBS, which is like a football fan's wet dream. SBS treats the viewer like an informed fan. Which, in between World Cups, are about the only people watching SBS in any case. The commentary team are, in the main, excellent. The best is Englishman Martin Tyler, who sounds like a trendy vicar but always manages to say the right thing. The worst is Gary Bloom, who managed to call Switzerland the Netherlands about 25 times yesterday. By the way, I have heard that in Camp Delta, they are now torturing prisoners by showing them endless repeats of the Ukraine - Switzerland game.

posted by owlhouse at 11:20 PM on June 27

the announcers for espn are just horrific, how many times do you hear, "all 64 games are available in high definition", and the men of the matchs are like they drew names out of a hat. in the us-ghana game, they had beasley and dempsey as the us stars, does one pass make you man of the match? ridiculous. i thought messing was about the worst i ve ever heard. all of them flip-flopo on their observations, it is just terrible. i like the univision announcers much better. the final eight is strong. france is looking good, spain did not create much on offense and looked very confused. the match with brazil will be a great match, too bad they are meeting in the quarters, as well as argentina-germany match, i cant wait. these last 19 days have been awesome, except the stupid announcers, great futbol.

posted by sauceysays at 12:57 AM on June 28

Excerpts that I liked from the article, pretty much describing the thinking that causes the problem w/ US coverage of soccer, and what's right about Univision: Exhibit 1 (ESPN):

Announcers in soccer-mad countries can be minimalist, O’Brien says, but he’s “introducing story-telling elements. And that antsy clique I’m talking about doesn’t want that — or any effort to entertain. ... But we’re putting on a TV product, not a soccer clinic.”
You've entirely missed the point, ESPN dumbos! The point is not the "story" or the soap opera. It's the immediacy! It's not the "product", it's the drama of the struggle happening in front of your fat face! Just listen to the way the Univision guys describe the action. You don't need to understand the words. Just listen to the quick color commentary inserted during the lulls, but listen most to the crescendo and decrescendo as the action waxes and wanes. Listen for the crescendo that explodes when a shot is taken, blocked, shot again, and the ultimate climax when the goal is scored. Listen and learn. Exhibit 2 (ESPN v Univision):
The common denominator in the way American TV covers any sport is the absence of the simple, urgent description of what is happening on the field, the court or the ice — the single most visceral thing for any fan watching any sport he or she cares about. That is the very experience the Spanish-language World Cup telecasts give English-language viewers: the sense of urgency, of excitement, of drama. There are no departures to explain what the rules are, no fancy graphics to present statistical factoids, no interruptions to show personal profiles. In Spanish, the narrative is the thing, and even though anglophones may not be able to follow that narrative perfectly, its primacy is so compelling as to be prefereable to the ESPN/ABC model.
Amen. Describe the match and stop the dumbass Olympics-like trivia and tragedy stories. Having said that, let's not get the wrong impression that Univision are tech-backward. I was impressed by the info visualization that was being used by Univision to show the percentage of passes that were on target and off target and the areas of the field in which they were happening (check it out, ESPN stats geeks!). I think this is some of the same technology the top teams are using (reported earlier at SpoFi) to analyze game and team patterns. Cool stuff. But used in the right places. At bloody half-time! I turned on full cable just so my dad could get English coverage for the World Cup (OK, I also wanted cartoons, Jon Stewart and Home and Garden). I didn't have to, and I'm not sure I should have.

posted by worldcup2002 at 02:20 AM on June 28

Hey owlhouse give us Martin Tyler back, he's needed to replace the increasingly insane John Motson.

posted by squealy at 04:12 AM on June 28

We have our own commentator we love to hate here, so I suppose nowhere is perfect. Although that being said I do love our pundits during half-time and after the match.

posted by Fence at 04:41 AM on June 28

I think ESPN's in a bit of a no-win here. They have to make some concessions to casual and new fans of the World Cup, because most American sports fans aren't soccer literate. I'm a new soccer nut who got Fox Soccer Channel in the middle of the EPL season. To give you an idea of my level of expertise, I'm just now getting my head around the offsides call. My take: I haven't found the ESPN coverage aggravating, aside from the too-numerous references to the U.S. in other matches and the guy doing color commentary who criticizes 90 percent of the ref decisions. One of the post-game analysts (Eric Wynalda I think) said that the refs are always wrong. You can't cry wolf like that calling a game -- save the "ref sucks" talk for the times when it's most obvious.

posted by rcade at 07:44 AM on June 28

I have recently moved to the US from Canada via the UK and am really missing the UK commentators. I agree with most of the comments on O'Brien and Balboa who are pretty dire. Balboa sounds like the guy who comes and sits beside you in the sports bar when you are having a quiet drink and insists on shouting his opinions on the ball game, which you were enjoying just fine without him! He seems to have an anti Beckham bias which is surprising for a former pro. They usually appreciate the degree of difficulty in Beckham's ball control and accuracy on set pieces and the amount of running he does 'off the ball'. I have greatly appreciated John Harkes's more measured comments and his vastly superior knowledge of the game. I hope he and JP Dellacamara get the call for the final. Are you listening ESPN?

posted by encal at 09:04 AM on June 28

If ESPN had their wits about them, they would just hire the vacationing English announcers on contract for the month. My kingdom for Martin Tyler behind the microphone!

posted by jhop8 at 09:09 AM on June 28

A perfect example of Obrien's complete lack of understanding or appreciation of the game. Can't remember which game but it was in group play. There was ten minutes of fantastic passing by both teams in the middle of the field where you could see plays building up and how this organism of a soccer team was building up to something amazing and then crushed by fantastic defense. The same would happen in the other direction and back and forth. The vision, control, and touch of the players was absolutely amazing. All I kept thinking was that if one of these waves breaks through the defense and gets a shot on goal the stadium is going to errupt. Back and forth from one 18 to another. Obrien: "Well....it looks like the action has completely vanished from the game for now." That one ignorant comment because there hadn't been a shot on goal or a yellow card, completely destroyed the mood for me. What an ass. Univision here I come.

posted by kire at 09:13 AM on June 28

A perfect example of Obrien's complete lack of understanding or appreciation of the game. Can't remember which game but it was in group play. There was ten minutes of fantastic passing by both teams in the middle of the field where you could see plays building up and how this organism of a soccer team was building up to something amazing and then crushed by fantastic defense. The same would happen in the other direction and back and forth. The vision, control, and touch of the players was absolutely amazing. All I kept thinking was that if one of these waves breaks through the defense and gets a shot on goal the stadium is going to errupt. Back and forth from one 18 to another. Obrien: "Well....it looks like the action has completely vanished from the game for now." Yeah, exactly so. Even though I don't understand more than one word in ten that the Univision commentators are saying, their tone, vocal cadence, etc. builds as the play is building. Damn, I want a Spanish-language futbol glossary! Anyone got one?

posted by lil_brown_bat at 09:28 AM on June 28

The best is Englishman Martin Tyler... Best. Sports. Announcer. Anywhere. Ever. By the way, I have heard that in Camp Delta, they are now torturing prisoners by showing them endless repeats of the Ukraine - Switzerland game. My wife is threatening this in me if I don't take out the trash. Nothing has been said here that I could really add to other than I am truly motivated to learn Spanish before 2010. Of course, by then I'll probably be able to beam Martin Tyler's commentary to this freckle on my ear.

posted by Texan_lost_in_NY at 09:57 AM on June 28

grum@work, the TSN/Sportsnet guys aren't BBC commentators. I agree they're pretty good (much better than the american team, by the sounds of things), but I'd definitely prefer them to have a sidekick/colour commentator in the box with them. Hopefully now we're further in the competition they'll start teaming them up or add some other people.

posted by dublinemma at 10:14 AM on June 28

Another nice thing about the TSN/Sportsnet commentary -- no stupid stats from TSN/Sportsnet. We just get the host feed for the pictures, mostly unadulterated by "the team who scores first has won 85% of the games," "Germany is 5-1-2 in night games," etc. Once or twice they did have to switch to the ESPN feed due to technical difficulties.

posted by Amateur at 10:20 AM on June 28

grum@work, the TSN/Sportsnet guys aren't BBC commentators. I agree they're pretty good (much better than the american team, by the sounds of things), but I'd definitely prefer them to have a sidekick/colour commentator in the box with them. Hopefully now we're further in the competition they'll start teaming them up or add some other people. Oh no, I really don't want another voice! Half of the fun is hearing the crowd (in surround) with the cheering/chants/whistles/drums, and I fear a second voice would ruin that atmosphere. The guys they have do their own "colour" by mentioning the club teams, personal notes, etc.

posted by grum@work at 11:16 AM on June 28

i hate how espn and ABC'S coverage will have a huge diplay at the start of the game, during the game, and so on thta blocks all the action,...like why not show the starting lineup before the match starts instead of blocking the action to show the lineup? Exactly. While I'm extremely grateful and lucky to get the ESPN feed on my computer here at work, it drives me nuts that they wait until the match starts to show the damned lineup. WTF!? I also speak Spanish so have been watching on Univision at home. It really is a completely different way of covering the game. Instead of the players being the story on ESPN (chock-full of references to a player's past, the fact that his peewee soccer coach is in the stands & his brother is serving over in Iraq), on Univision the game is the story. There's no need to add anything, the drama presents itself over the course of 90 minutes. Lastly my favorite part of the article is this: American TV sportscasting is full of factoids, full of graphics, full of breakaways from the midst of play for prerecorded human-interest backgrounders, full of color analysts overexplaining what happened a couple of minutes ago even as new, more urgent things are happening in front of our eyes, full of overpacked broadcast booths with three-man teams, sideline reporters, spotters, graphics people and telestrators, all breathlessly jostling for air time. Goals are scored in hockey games, and instead of showing the players celebrating, hyperactive producers cut away to show coaches, random crowd shots, the empty net, the goalie whose expression is hidden behind his mask. A single football play cannot pass without two instant replays; lineups cannot be given without film clips of the players saying their own names.

posted by JohnSFO at 11:30 AM on June 28

Yeah. My biggest joy in watching these telecasts is the LACK of talking. I much prefer a simple "brillant" to a four minute disection of the play. Probably because it's refreshing and I'm used to the nattering of so many blowhards in all the other sports. Which reminds me; Tim McCarver is still alive.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 11:34 AM on June 28

I would be willing to pay extra for a second (or third) audio channel that just plays stadium sounds with no commentators at all. I'd pay upwards of $100 a year for that kind of headache-free existence. It's not just World Cup soccer. I dream of NCAA basketball without that hollering idiot Vitale, or watching the NFL with sound again; I like the Washington Capitals' broadcast team on Comcast, but there are so few commentators saying anything worth listening to, I'd chuck the good with the bad in exchange for my gameday sanity. They can keep the sound up for the commercials. Just get those idiots out of my head. At this point, across the board in American sports broadcast, the commentators just provide sound effects. I would rather hear the sounds of the game. That's my little recipe for making the world a better place.

posted by Hugh Janus at 11:55 AM on June 28

I would be willing to pay extra for a second (or third) audio channel that just plays stadium sounds with no commentators at all. We were talking about this as a solution during one of the games. I saw a free Canadiens game on our old cable system during the broadcasters' strike a few years back. It's fine for 15 minutes, but it gets old and weird. Like my dad.

posted by yerfatma at 12:15 PM on June 28

The article has it right, all American sportscasting sucks. The World Cuip problems are just indicitave of the general malaise. Basically, the Media thinks were all a bunch of pig-ignorant yokels. They may well be right. Look at our president. After meeting GW, I'd make sure everything I said to an American was slow, and without too many big words. "Marcello, did you know Italy is shaped like a boot?" "Wow." We can claim to be insulted, but when they keep releasing studies that half of our HS graduates can't find Kansas, maybe it's time to start talking down to the slow kids with the big continent. Man of the Match: What a freakin' joke. The Spain-France game. The Spanish scorer scores one fairly early, and then proceeds to make another 8 turnovers in the Half. Truly abysmal play... But he scored a goal, so he gets nominated for Man of the Match?

posted by LostInDaJungle at 12:21 PM on June 28

We can claim to be insulted, but when they keep releasing studies that half of our HS graduates can't find Kansas, maybe it's time to start talking down to the slow kids with the big continent. But, Lost, isn't that the problem, don't we talk down to them and leave them in the ditch in which they've found themselves? What if we talked up to people encouraging them to reach a higher level of understanding? (i.e. Challenging them to understand the rules of soccer) Granted, I'm a videofilm guy, so I think in some part media is a reflection of society, but at the same time, I think it can be an influence as well. Now, we all need to write letters to the networks appealing to them to intellectualize their sports programming.

posted by Thisguy at 12:29 PM on June 28

Now, we all need to write letters to the networks appealing to them to intellectualize their sports programming. Noooooooooo! They tried that with Dennis Miller in the MNF booth already. Please no. There is a solution, but I think it more along the line of a secondary audio channel option allowing a viewer to switch to "live sound" and hear whatever the mics on the field pick up, and not another talking head to spin repartee. Besides networks prefer their audience to be ignorant in order to sell them more stuff. Ummm... *ahem* Please no more Dennis Miller. No matter what wfrazerjr may say. ;)

posted by scully at 01:18 PM on June 28

I'm sorry, terrapin, I didn't intend to reference Dennis Miller at all when I said intellectualize. In fact, I think that's an oxymoron. Sadly, I think I would prefer Madden over Miller any day. Sigh. I am with you on the field sound. I used to turn on the local radio broadcast of the football game and mute my tv. Probably will again this season.

posted by Thisguy at 01:37 PM on June 28

The article has it right, all American sportscasting sucks. The World Cuip problems are just indicitave of the general malaise. Actually, ESPN's tennis coverage doesn't suck at all. But somehow tennis seems to be its own little mafia. Lot more ex-players perhaps? At least as compared to futbol.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 02:06 PM on June 28

Tennis is a special case because unlike even the other biggest American sports, Tennis commentators largely do only tennis. Yeah, Mary Jo Fernandez, Patrick McEnroe, Pam Shriver, & Luke Jensen all played the game too, but they've worked hard at becoming good broadcasters, and they spend the vast bulk of their year in other countries, following the tour closely and getting to know the players and the fans. Not to mention that Mary Carillo is an excellent journalist, and Dick Enberg is as good as anyone at staying both interesting and out of the way of the play, no matter what sport he's doing. If only all sports had that solid a core of committed broadcasters. Maybe stock car racing & golf do, but the list is short.

posted by chicobangs at 02:39 PM on June 28

Dick Enberg is as good as anyone at staying both interesting and out of the way of the play, no matter what sport he's doing. This does not apply outside of tennis anymore. In fact, I'm suprised he hasn't called a near-miss interception in a tennis match yet.

posted by yerfatma at 03:19 PM on June 28

Man of the Match: What a freakin' joke. The Spain-France game. The Spanish scorer scores one fairly early, and then proceeds to make another 8 turnovers in the Half. Truly abysmal play... But he scored a goal, so he gets nominated for Man of the Match? It was worse in the first US game - Reyna was put forward for the MotM for, as far as I can remember, one shot which hit the post. Meanwhile, Pavel Nedved's name was nowhere to be seen.

posted by Mr Bismarck at 03:50 PM on June 28

If only all sports had that solid a core of committed broadcasters. Maybe stock car racing & golf do, but the list is short. I watch stock car racing, and I can tell you, just because they're committed, doesn't make 'em any freakin' good.

posted by The_Black_Hand at 03:56 PM on June 28

But somehow tennis seems to be its own little mafia. Lot more ex-players perhaps? At least as compared to futbol. This an excellent point. The fact is (in my lil book of "facts") we're only just now producing a few...few...better than average players, when judged on the global stage. Why should we expect them to become better than average presenters? I know the link bangs on O'Brien, but I actually think Balboa is worse, much worse. And he used to be captain of our freakin' National Team. As the story mentions, there are a few passable broadcasting teams for ESPN, though I disagree that any announcing with Tommy Smyth as "getting it right". He's actually OK, I guess. He seemed to calm down a bit after the first game he called. Anyway...I think ESPN missed the boat by not teaming Davis and Fraser with their roles reversed, assuming they have to give us a "team" at all; one voice is sufficient. Well, assuming they wise up and stop covering half the screen with crapola, one voice is sufficient. The "worldwide leader in sports". Indeed.

posted by Texan_lost_in_NY at 07:18 PM on June 28

ESPN - Worldwide leader in sports the world doesn't care about?

posted by squealy at 05:15 AM on June 29

The world doesn't care about tennis?

posted by lil_brown_bat at 05:33 AM on June 29

George Bush don't care about World Cup people.

posted by scully at 10:11 AM on June 29

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