Most fans of the Premier League in the United States want the game to grow, and broadcasting games on a major network is a tremendous step forward. Unfortunately, this means soccer is jeopardizing one of the major areas where it breaks from every American sport. In a country where almost every televised game is sandwiched by balding men shouting declarative presumptions of questionable logic, where animated robots jump around 30-foot television screens flexing metal-muscles, we have to ask ourselves, is this the path we want the EPL to follow?
Soccer is a graceful and beautiful game to watch. For the most part, FOX Soccer’s coverage reflects that. They tend to have two people talking rationally (relatively speaking) before every game and briefly at half, otherwise letting the game absorb the majority of the spotlight. FOX Soccer tends not to make itself the center of attention, recognizing people watch for the game, not for the production.
All of this is in direct opposition to the broadcast of every other American sport. Pregame shows for the NFL and NBA are laden with grandiose former stars with opinions to match, massive digital screens to make the seven-foot analysts look human, and mind-bogglingly inane pre-filmed segments. During FOX’s most recent NFL-pregame show, the host interviewed two fictitious talking babies created by a company’s marketing department. Networks like TNT, FOX and ESPN want the pregame to be a spectacle in itself, at the expense of the game’s dignity.
FOX has already begun to follow this formula with soccer. If you think my fears of soccer broadcasts getting Americanized is farfetched, you needn’t look any further than Piers Morgan. By bringing in the “noted Twitter antagonist” as a third-wheel for the main FOX broadcast, the network is following the big personality-big declarations formula, and he didn’t disappoint in that regard. Aside from Piers, the network used the same theme music as the NFL broadcast, and consistently tried to market to the NFL crowd. Not only does this demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding about NFL audiences, but it shows FOX’s aspirations consist of applying the NFL broadcasting formula to the EPL.
First and foremost, we all love and appreciate the game of soccer. I have tremendous respect for the game, and want it to remain the central theme of each and every broadcast. I want the EPL to grow in the US, but I want it to lure people with its subtle complexity, beauty, and exuberance. I don’t want it diminished by big screens and shouting dolts.
All I ask is, when championing the growth of soccer in the US, be careful what you wish for. We might be getting it.