It goes without saying that the amount of soccer available to American “soccer” fans is astounding.
This summer, ESPN/ABC made sure every match of the World Cup was available live on television, Internet or even app. Meanwhile, NBC Sports Group is kicking off its second season covering the Barclays Premier League, which will see the broadcast company showcase all 380 matches of the season on its networks and over the web.
beIN SPORTS holds the rights to numerous leagues (La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1, etc.) and cup competitions. FOX Broadcasting holds the rights to the UEFA Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup and Community Shield (to name a few).
Speaking as someone who grew up in the 90’s, when you were lucky to find one match a week on tape-delay after midnight, the amount of ‘live’ coverage is just staggering.
But while the amount of games has increased tenfold, the quality of the footballing punditry and analysis in the US has still been playing catch up.
ESPN/ABC has arguably done the best overall job to date. Prior to losing the rights to the BPL, the cable network had been providing the best weekly coverage of the English top flight. But aspects of the coverage could use improvement.
NBC has come on in just one season and raised the bar in regards to soccer coverage; the amount of games and respect for the sport. While their punditry is still a work in progress, it is leaps and bounds better than the amateur schtick that FOX dishes out as analysis.
But the blueprint for all of these American shows is Sky Sports Monday Night Football, which returns today with Burnley vs. Chelsea.
It is hard for the majority of soccer fans in the US to compare the coverage of an English broadcast to that of the ones here in the States. But for those who have seen a broadcast of Monday Night Football (whether by legal or illegal means), they know that it is the benchmark for soccer coverage. (Editor’s note: Catch up on previous episodes of Monday Night Football).
The original show was broadcast from 1992-2007 and it was mainly shown on Sunday (under the name Ford Super Sunday). It was revamped and reinvented, then brought back to life in August 2010. During the first few years, Sky tried different announcers in the lead chairs. Richard Keys, Andy Gray, David Jones, Ben Shephard, and Ed Chamberlin have all spent time in the studio. But in August 2011, Ed Chamberlain and Gary Neville took over the positions and flourished. Since then, the program has been a “must see” event for footballing fans.
Chamberlin is an ideal host and complements Neville perfectly. He raises the points of discussion, lets Neville talk, and asks appropriate questions to carry the discussions forward.
Neville has been a revelation to sports punditry. Not many people would have pegged the former Manchester United captain to be a natural as a television analyst. He will be the first to admit that he doesn’t have a face for television. But his opinions and analysis are second to none. He can break down situations on a telestrator while explaining his thoughts as clearly as a first team manager to a television audience. It is easy to see why Neville was snatched up as a coach by the English National Team.
Neville also has shown an ability to make statements that end up being newsworthy without coming off as an attention-seeker. His opinions are just that, his opinions.
Last season, Sky added former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher to the studio. At first there was a concern that Sky was attempting to bring some ‘fire’ to the studio by having two former rivals face-to-face. But that was quickly dismissed after the first show.
Carragher was a perfect addition. The playful interaction between the three in-studio personalities was turned up a notch while still maintaining a level of professionalism.
Neville and Carragher take quiet shots at each other’s career while also sharing honest opinions and having concrete discussions. All this while Chamberlin leads them through topics, then sits back to let them do the work. Viewers get the feeling that Chamberlin is quietly smiling at how lucky he is to be hearing two former Champions League winners discuss their opinions in front of him.
The difficulty for the majority of soccer fans in the US is that Monday Night Football is hard to gain access to. Fans just can’t grab their remotes and click over to a channel and watch the program. But there are ways to watch the show ‘live’ or a day later (search for it on Reddit).
Monday Night Football has provided some memorable moments and interactions over the past few seasons. Let’s hope American television executives continue trying to raise the bar in order to reach this level of football analysis.
Here are a few clips of the show (They are hard to come by because of copyright laws):
Neville and Carragher thoughts on Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool:
Neville and Carragher on David Luiz and playing with non-English players:
Neville and Carragher on Mesut Ozil:
Carragher and Neville analyze Liverpool vs. Chelsea:
Neville on Diving (apologies for the quality):