Should British Commentators Be Hired on American TV?
On Monday, it was revealed by our sister site EPL Talk that the legendary Martin Tyler of Sky Sports will be joining ESPN for next summer’s World Cup as the lead announcer. While I have nothing personally against Tyler (In fact, I like his style, and have seen him present two matches this weekend, since I am currently in India and here the Sky or TWI feed is given for every live match.), the experiment with Andy Gray in the Euro 2008 tournament leaves me with significant concerns about ESPN’s propensity to hire Sky commentators for international events. Moreover, I am concerned that American commentators are being held to a different standard than British ones by American audiences.
A segment of football fans in the United States have been vocal in attempting to get ESPN to be more British in its presentation style. Many of these “soccer snobs” simply assume anyone with an American accent is unqualified to commentate on football. These fans take their inspiration for the sport almost solely from the British Isles and don’t care for the domestic game, or building domestic talent.
Then, the issue of British commentators from B Sky B and their knowledge level comes into play. Andy Gray in the Euro 2008 tournament showered the American audience with mis-information (not knowing the rules properly on Holland’s controversial first half goal versus Italy, when EPL Talk author Michael James quickly and properly explained it on the website), petty blatant biases (dislike of any player associated with Chelsea FC) and flat out ignorance of some of the bigger sides competing for the title.
Had an American commentator, let’s say Marcelo Balboa, shown such an appalling lack of preparation or knowledge of the Italian or German teams, he would have been roasted on the message boards and by European oriented football fans. But in Gray’s case he was largely given a pass because his accent sounded good, and he must know what he’s talking about because he is Sky’s lead analyst for Premier League matches. Additionally, many who support Gray do not watch other European football leagues beyond the British Isles. So in fact, Gray is simply appealing to their prejudices and comfort levels.
Perhaps Gray can be excused, because the two national teams he is no doubt most familiar with, Scotland and England failed to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals. But ESPN who took a major hit in 2006 for the perceived poor form of its commentators should have brought in someone who would actually take the time to research the leagues which produced the most players for the Euro finals outside of the British Isles.
I should state that I believe Martin Tyler is a true professional who has often times had to carry Gray on Sky’s Broadcasts. Tyler will do a credible job, which Gray did not do, but why is he being hired to begin with? Considering the United States has more registered footballers in FIFA’s big count than England, as well as two dedicated all football channels, must we rely on Britain for our top commentating talent?
ESPN has had some success with British based commentators at past World Cups. Mike Hill did a credible job during the 1998 and 2002 World Cups. Tyler is a knowledgeable and professional presenter, but unlike Hill, he is actually going to be the lead commentator taking the job away from an American who could help present the game in such a way that continues its growth.
Back to my initial point: Why do so many Americans reject American voices for British ones? Why is Christopher Sullivan’s indigenous, knowledgeable, worldly and appealing style rejected for the arrogance and ignorance of Andy Gray? Why is Phil Schoen rejected for Martin Tyler? (For the record, I believe Tyler is a good presenter but my point is, why reject an American for an Englishman on American TV) Why is John Harkes subjected to the sort of psycho babble analysis that no British based commentator faces from our fans?
I must simply assume, that much like Asia, the United States has fans of the beautiful game that have a self defeatism and have bought into the virtues of the English game (note I did not say the International or European game) over their own domestic product. These fans cannot be bothered to support local MLS, USL, NPSL, PCSL or NCAA sides because they are too caught up in English football. They do not watch La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga or Ligue Un either because of either a language barrier or simple lack of interest.
Where I sit currently in Asia, the NFL (India’s domestic league) in India is facing a crisis of support. Why? Because the marketing prowess of the Premier League has over run so much of India’s sporting landscape. In the two weeks since my arrival, zero World Cup qualifiers were on local TV, while this weekend seven Premier League games were shown live. Only a single La Liga, Football League and SPL game were shown, and nothing from any other European league. This of course means, nine of ten live matches this weekend shown in India came from the British Isles.
India, of course has never qualified for a World Cup, and probably never will. Nor will Vietnam, Thailand, or Malaysia, where the story is similar with the Premier League running rough shod over the domestic game, and creating prejudices and biases within the Football supporter’s community. (It is also worth noting that only three Englishman coach national teams currently: India and Thailand employ two of them.)
But we Americans should aspire to be different. We should not be taking our inspiration from third world countries that were recently colonies of European powers. We are a strong football playing nation with a longer streak of consecutive World Cup appearances than England. We have been to a FIFA final in the last year, which is thirty three years more recently than England’s most recent final appearance. But by continuing to perpetuate a self defeating prophecy and an inferiority complex to a nation whose football record is not comparable to that of Italy, Brazil or Germany, we are in fact damaging our own development.
Americans should never be a submissive, subservient people to any foreign power or foreign interest. While football is not society at large or politics, it should not be any different. I am currently reading a compelling book, by two noted British authors (the book has yet to be released and will be the subject of an EPL Talk interview within the next two weeks) that describes the desire of the English to spread the Premier League out of imperial fervor. I cannot say that the authors opened my eyes to this specifically, as I have believed it in the past, but they simply confirmed my view of the situation.
The pity of the whole situation is that I like the Premier League, perhaps more than I like any other football league in the world. But the attitude of so many is that if it is not the Premiership or English, it cannot possibly pass for good football or knowledgeable commentary is flat out insulting. We should strive to do better than this short sighted attitude.
Those brave patriots who took on the Crown at Lexington and Concord would hardly believe that elements within the American nation wanted to return to Anglo domination. Thankfully, the majorities of football fans in the US are of Latin American/Southern European descent and won’t be easily cowed into giving up other football leagues and cultures. Only by fusing together and appreciating all these elements can the US actually develop an indigenous football culture that will rival any other on the planet.
- If Chivas USA wins the West, Zach Thornton has to be strongly considered for League MVP. With the US goalkeeping situation beyond Tim Howard and Brad Guzan still open, perhaps Thornton can get his first real national team look since the early part of this decade in the upcoming friendlies.
- I for one am rooting for FC Dallas to make the playoffs. I think the Hoops have played a positive brand of football this second half of the season in what at times has been a difficult MLS season to watch. The revitalization of Jeff Cunningham, one of the league’s all time greats has been a great story as well.
- Montreal’s victory in the USL First Division final over Vancouver takes us into an offseason which is sure to be filled with fireworks. As I have reported extensively in partnership with Brian Quarstad of Inside Minnesota Soccer, the Team Owners Association, USL, USSF and MLS have had several meetings to try and resolve the impasse. But, I am told unless USL budges from the current structure and delegation of administrative functions, the TOA will be forced to make what is undoubtedly an unpleasant and risky decision. Here’s hoping that events intervene before that decision has to be made. The USL annual meeting begins in Tampa on November 18th, and I would assume any decision would be finalized before then.