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June 28, 2008
 

Counterpoint: ESPN? No thanks!

For our counterpoint, we turn to one of our commenters. He was super worried about the length of his diatribe, so if you just put tl;dr in the comments, he may not be able to handle it. He does start off with a nice double entendre, so at least he is in tune with the general maturity level of this site’s writers.

Won’t you please welcome Mike Georger to the fight. He did a heck of a lot more research than I did.

1. Penetration: Hiding the tip

One of the biggest arguments for putting the EPL on ESPN is that it will reach more households. Let us assume that ESPN Classic would be getting it, as the talk was of turning that into ESPN 3 or whatever. Classic is not a mainstay of cable packages like its ESPN brethren; it currently reaches 65 million households. Fox Soccer Channel currently reaches 35 million households, and it has added ten million in the last year and a half alone. So while it would almost be a doubling of the households, over one in ten of American households still gets FSC. Add maybe the six or seven people who get Setanta and you’re looking at even more. It’s a jump to be sure, but not one that justifies the negatives … now as for said negatives.

2. The Broadcasters

Derek Rae and Tommy Smyth are the mainstays of ESPN and would surely get the big games, I can deal with that, I like Rae but despise Smyth, but I can deal with it because they have good chemistry. However ESPN feels the need to stock their studio teams with former USA players such as Julie Foudy and Eric Wynalda, who are both insufferable. Foudy has been rightfully blasted around these parts, she tries too hard and cannot keep up with the wit of Smyth and Gray. Wynalda cannot be faulted; everyone knew he was a bastard, so why anyone expected him to not come across as a smug douchebag is beyond me. What worries me is decisions like that of giving primary World Cup coverage to Dave O’Brien and Marcelo Balboa. Really we are going to give the world’s biggest sporting event to a baseball announcer and someone with two years of sideline reporter experience? It was a disaster, and ESPN defending it by saying they were trying to appeal to a larger audience by using people who would call the game in simplistic terms. It was a move that was insulting to people who cared about the sport and to me showed how little ESPN understands it. JP Dellacamra, Adrian Healey, and Janusz Michallik are all very good at their jobs, but continually get overshadowed by the ‘personalities’ that ESPN brings out to try and pump up their coverage. I am not watching to be entertained by the zany Wynalda, I am watching to see the game I love and hear thoughtful insight and the occasional brilliant goal call (attn: Andy Gray).

Sure FSC doesn’t have the best announcers for the games, often it’s just one guy. However I rarely have beef with whoever is doing the games, they usually show a wide range of emotion and seem to have a good understanding of the history of the game. Truth be told I could not name one of the announcers on FSC or Setanta, and that’s having watched games there for several years, but I guarantee if I couldn’t stand them I would know their names. I have enjoyed the Liverpool league and cup games I have seen on FSC, I cannot always say the same about the Champions League games on ESPN; for Tommy Smyth to suggest Peter Crouch was benched in Athens because he was ineffectual in the tournament when in fact he was their leading scorer, that kind of mistake should not happen and just shows they really aren’t putting much into it. Also, what the hell is with the distance covered statistic whenever someone is substituted? Maybe it would be more useful to show how many shots someone had, how many fouls they committed, how many corners they won, their passing percentage, or any relevant statistic. To me this just says ‘hey we are trying to show these guys run really far and therefore are top notch athletes’, this smacks of simplicity and I think just goes to show how little they understand their audience.

3. ESPN Doesn’t care about football or black people.

ESPN sees the game as an investment in my opinion, which at the base of it all I cannot fault them for as they are a business. However to me it comes across that the people at FSC generally care about the game. I cannot imagine anyone working at ESPN putting forth the clear passion for the EPL that you see on Fox Football Fone In. While admittedly the show has suffered slightly since Nick Geber left and broke the dynamic of Chelsea/Liverpool, it still fun to watch and listen to the hosts get pissed off at whatever manager or player is currently hiding his head up his own ass. When England were bounced from qualifying, they went apes**t, and rightfully so because they are English. How many English people does ESPN have, Healey and thats it? You cannot convince me that Skip Bayless or any of the talking head gas bags on PTI or Around the Horn could talk about the game the way the FSC guys do. FSC currently shows SkySports News at night, and their coverage of the EPL is magnificent. They have interviews from almost every manager from every game, and the broadcasters know the sport. On ESPN we get maybe an ESPN Deportes update buried in ESPNews showing one highlight per week. Sportscenter anchors aren’t versed in the sport, they don’t talk about it, and I don’t want to have to goto them to get my EPL news during the week. I’ll take a stacked British broad who knows the difference between Man City and Man United over Stuart Scott’s booyahs any day of the week.

The Euro coverage is another example. While sure they brought in Andy Gray, look at what the BBC is doing with their coverage. Their coverage team consists of Martin O’Neill, Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen, Gordon Strachan, Marcel Desailly, and others. Thats one of the best holding midfielders ever, one of the best defenders ever, and four men who became Officers of the British Empire for their service to the game. Now that is a group of guys I would want to hear talk about this game. Face facts, a British network is going to put together a better package than an American one.

My last point here is a bit of the screenshot evidence of ESPN not giving a s**t and just airing the tournament for mid afternoon ratings. These were taken Saturday and Sunday after the Holland and Spain games. The first was taken at 5:52 p.m. Roughly a half hour after Russia bounced the ember hot Dutch. Third story on the side banner, not too shabby, but really the NBA Draft gets the lead item? I gave them the benefit of the doubt thinking maybe they would update it and bump it. Four minutes later at 5:56 I was proven incredibly naive. Holy s**t really an NFL piece gets the main headline? Some games had gotten the main story earlier in the tournament, so why when the NBA and NFL are both done does it get fifth billing? Ridiculous. Immediately after the Italy game I went to the gym but when I got back at eight I logged on and saw this. NOWHERE two and a half hours after a game between two of the best teams in the world. They paid millions upon millions of dollars to air this tournament and they don’t even put up a story about it in their sidebar of news stories? You cannot say ESPN gives a s**t about this. If you look at FSC.com after most games in the tournament they have had between one and four articles about each game. Not just AP stories either, they actually have people writing things, such a novel idea. ESPN would rather put up three stories about the NFL and two about NASCAR than one about the second biggest sporting tournament in the world.

One last cheap shot here, Soccernet.com is garbage. If you want to get information on any league outside of the big six you are out of luck. If you want to know who scored in a World Cup qualifier from the Oceanic region, you are going to have to go elsewhere. And the worst thing is that their most interesting articles on the Bundesliga and La Liga are in German and Spanish respectively. Hey thats great appeal to other countries, but realize there are English speakers that want to read those articles too.

4. Beating up government officials over the slow progress of High Definition TV

As I understand the situation, the reason there is no HD here is that the HD technology in England is vastly inferior to ours, and the cost of bringing over an HD feed is four times that of a regular one. Also, as I understand it again, Sky controls the feeds, and this is something that isn’t going to change. As much as ESPN would like to make statements that they are looking to expand, they don’t have much of a presence in England and the FA isn’t going to give them the rights to the English feeds no matter what. The NFL wouldn’t give MNF to Star Sports Asia to show in America. Sky had a monopoly until recently, and even if they are outbid by ESPN I don’t see them losing the primary rights. So ESPN would be stuck with dealing with Sky, so essentially having to pay out the ass for HD. Paying for it for one tournament every two years is one thing, paying for it for three or four games a weekend for 36 weeks is a different story altogether. The money thing is a whole separate issue. Is ESPN willing to pay close to a billion dollars to get Setanta’s share? This isn’t going to be a ratings bonanza, and they may not see it as that great of an investment. Sky paid 2 billion for their share, and actually managed to increase the number of games they show from before the split; their stranglehold isn’t going to be loosened. Add to the fact that FSC is in bed with Sky, which is own by Uncle Rupert’s son, ESPN could face a tough task even getting in the game. FSC and Setanta have both made press statements that they are looking into HD feeds, but I sadly would not expect it any time soon regardless of who is in control.

5. Can I get a ruling on this: The Boston Red Sox factor.

Lets face it, if ESPN gets the rights to the EPL we will be seeing predominantly United and Chelsea games, maybe with some Liverpool and Arsenal games thrown in. Sure I will get to see Fulham and their Americans play when they play a big four team, or see City peak early in the season if they have to travel to London or a bit west, or Spurs get shellacked, but only by the big four. What I would like to see is the occasional game between teams outside of the top four I seriously doubt that will happen on ESPN. Even if Setanta is hard to get, with the current two network setup having games on at the same time is less of an issue. If ESPN got control of all the games, I can’t image they would show more than one at a time As they will be aiming for popularity, they will only show games involving the big teams.

This will inevitably lead to more and more United and Chelsea fans. There is not an American fan of United under the age of 35 that is not a bandwagon jumping dickhead. As for Chelsea maybe knock the age group down a few years and it’s the same thing. I myself am in my mid twenties and have been following Liverpool since I was 15, when I witnessed Michael Owen at the 1998 World Cup. So naturally I interact with support bases of my age group, and for United and Chelsea fans here, that consists mainly of trophy hunters. Now to be fair there are some bandwagon Liverpool supporters since 2005, and the same for Arsenal, but I think most would agree it is nowhere even near the magnitude of the former two.

What will happen is your average fratboy recovering from a crazy night of date rape, Busch Ice, and Halo, will stumble across a United game and a week later be rocking a Rooney shirt. I don’t want to deal with this bulls**t, as the bandwagoners are usually the most irritating and least educated fans in the game. Back home in Charlotte I goto a British restaurant for games and there is always a strong contingent of Liverpool supporters there, who I can have a good conversation about the past and the future with. Usually there are a few supporters of the opposing team, Newcastle ones are the best to make fun of, and I have no problems with them. However if theres a United fan there I always remind them they weren’t any more relevant than Nottingham Forest until they started buying trophies, and I get blank stares if they are my age. The words ‘Nottingham Forrest’ or ‘Sir Bobby’ fall on deaf ears of most United fans here, and the last thing I want is more fans of a team that consistently beats the piss out of mine but have no idea why I am so upset about it. I may not like Arsenal or Everton, in fact I loathe them, but rarely do I meet a supporter that I cannot talk to intelligently about the game. Maybe the key difference here is that United and Chelsea have fans in America, the rest have supporters, and we don’t need more fans. I am fine with a small yet fiercely loyal fan base. I think I just like the coziness of getting s**tfaced at nine in the morning down at the bar watching Setanta with a group of strangers that I relate to, that will disappear if ESPN takes over. Call it snobbish if you will, but its not like the game has gone underexposed in this country, people of my age group have had many chances to catch onto this game, and if they can’t appreciate it, f**k them, let them have their Monday Night Football, I’ll take my Saturday Morning Football with a cold Carlsberg.

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