Well look at what happens when the American football loving public isn’t subjected to an all English final with the team missing from last year full of petulant whining children like their former coach. Wednesday’s final provided ESPN 300,000 more US viewers and a 30% spike in ratings. Over 1.4 million households watched the Champions League Final in the United States, a number that beats many daytime Major League Baseball telecasts on the network.
For years now we have been told that for football to succeed among an English language audience in this country it must be of the English variety. We received more hype in this country about the Chelsea-Man United final than we had for any previous final since 1999 when it was thought by some that Manchester United’s heroic victory over Bayern Munich was a victory for the game in the United States. This came even though the only player that day who would ever suit up in MLS featured for Bayern not United.
We’ve been preached too about the quality, skill and presentation of the English game to detriment of all others including our own domestic leagues and national team. But on Wednesday the football fans who prefer to watch English language telecasts spoke with their viewership. No English Premier League match has ever had so many viewers in the United States.
While an emphasis on English football is important to growing the popularity of the game in this country, other European leagues provide more skill and arguably equal levels of entertainment. They should all be paired together as part of a pie, not presented as competitors or somehow lesser versions of the game. As I discussed on this week’s Mad About Football show, much of the Anglicization of the world football press is done more out of Hubris than any other factor. Much of the English language football press in the US buys the lines that come out of British papers and British football shows lock stock and barrel.
American viewers also demonstrated with the high popularity of the Euros which was missing England altogether (some commentators myself included believed the Euros would bomb on American TV without England’s qualification) that they get world football not just the anglicized version of the game.
Part of the tragedy of World Cup 2006 on American Television is that ABC and ESPN felt they had to spotlight the England team so frequently. The Three Lions not only bored American audiences to death allowing detractors of the beautiful game here at home to pen irresponsible, xenophobic columns, but ABC failed to highlight Argentina, France, Spain and the other sides playing open and exciting football until it was obvious England was not going to win the World Cup.
We were told Dave O’Brien made the World Cup unwatchable, but O’Brien’s biggest issue probably was being forced to call so many absolutely dire England matches. Had O’Brien been given the opportunity to cover Argentina or France at an earlier stage of the tournament perhaps he would not have received so much scorn from the American football press, much of it obsessed with England.
A parting thought on the Champions League on ESPN. Perhaps it was the European bias of Derek Rae and Tommy Smyth that has me thankful ESPN will no longer carry the Champions League. Both formerly commentated on MLS matches, but only Smyth could have been called truly objective. Rae’s history calling New England Revolution, Metrostars and ESPN MLS games showed he had a lack of tolerance for football not of the European standard, and was nothing but condescending to the American game. (It should be pointed out that Adrian Healey is one of the most pro American announcers around with MLS and USL/A-League PR experience himself and that he will be missed.) No doubt that Rae is a professional, but he was the wrong voice for an American audience.
Perhaps it was the ticker at the bottom updating us on the score of the Red Sox-Orioles game that was annoying. Or maybe it was just an aversion to a network that has treated football as an ugly stepchild in classic American fashion. Whatever the case I am very grateful the Champions League is headed to the News Corp family of networks next year where the event will be treated as the worldwide phenomena it truly is.
CORRECTION: I did forget about David Beckham. For a minute I thought the comments meant John Thorrington who was a reserve team player for United in the 98-99 season before moving to Bayer Leverkusen and being on a reserve squad of another side that made a Champions League final. I guess my point is Lothar Matthaeus had in 1999 already very openly expressed his desrie to play in New York. That made Bayern a natural to support in that final, knowing he was maybe months (as it turns out a year) away from joining MLS. But still we were force fed the diet of what was good for England was good for MLS. That’s the point. Sorry for the error.