April 2010

ESPN’s Coverage Borders On Absurd

The inside of betting shops, underneath a teenager’s bed and a changing room – what do these three murky and hallowed places have in common?

None of them should ever see the light of day and certainly not be illuminated by the light of a live TV camera but ESPN, with their FA Cup coverage next season, are intent on bringing the inner workings of a football team into the homes and pubs of a nation.

I can see why they are interested in doing this, it would help differentiate their coverage from BBC, ITV and Sky and give them talking points during the matches and on the surface is less offensive than the idea of moving FA Cup matches to midweek and eliminating replays but they haven’t really thought it through.

Many US sports such as baseball and American football have enough natural and artificial breaks within them to allow broadcasters to interrupt or in the case of Baseball construct an interesting narrative around a tedious and pedestrian sport in the first place but Football, with its constant action allows very little in the way of live interruption and distraction and anything that does intrude stands out like a sore thumb and actually gets in the way of the presentation of the game – whilst I am all for hearing why a manager has taken a player off or switched tactics, I don’t want to see or hear from him whilst an attack is in progress.

Also, as anybody who has ever been in a changing room will tell you, it’s a sacred place of ritual, magic and incredibly bad language. The dangers of the live cameras are eminently represented by lumbering lower league striker Jefferson Louis. Firstly, after Oxford United dispatched local rivals Swindon Town from the FA Cup, they awaited their fate in the live third draw with the camera in the dressing room to capture the reaction. When they were drawn away to Arsenal, it was the reaction that the TV cameras had hoped for, unbridled jubilation, excitement etc. Unfortunately, viewers got more than they bargained for as a stark-naked Louis leapt around the room as if playing the part of Batman in a well-trodden urban myth, just a terrifying and in all-too-clear view.

Louis again, gave his honest answer to a touch line question on why he was brought off which although hilarious, isn’t big or clever, unlike his other attributes which we saw earlier which can accurately be described as big and clever.

Thirdly, we all like to imagine our managers and coaches tearing strips off underperforming sides at half time, it’s part of the football mystique but like watching a couple fighting in the street, it’s incredibly embarrassing if you happen to be watching it and believe that some things should be kept indoors – Mike Bassett England Manager is a wonderful example.

If ESPN want to be different and respected within British Broadcasting they should stick to screening the games at a reasonable hour, restricting the commentators to commenting on the match and players at hand and keeping the punditry and gimmicks to a bare minimum. The greatest exponents of any art are the ones that make is look easy and who make it look simple and broadcasting is no different.

Jeff Stelling’s Gillette Soccer Saturday is the most popular sport program on television for a reason – five blokes sat around talking about the football sounds like a directors and commissioners nightmare but in reality, it’s exactly what the viewers and fans want and by obliging, they are rewarded with the numbers and devotion that the advertisers dream of.

If I can teach ESPN just one lesson about England and English Football – it’s less is more.

Guy Bailey is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at guy@yanksarecoming.com.

Guy Bailey

  • Let’s face it .. it’s better than Fox Soccer Channel’s original programming.