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Why Premier League TV Commentators Should Be Licensed


At the end of a productive week you shuffle off to your living room for some deserved rest. You plonk yourself down on the comfy couch, arrange a smorgasbord of snacks on the table and tune in to the game of the week.

Everything is aligned for an ideal Sunday afternoon fiesta when suddenly it seizes you like fingernails scratching a blackboard: your game’s commentator is a serial abuser of proper diction. He stumbles through a mangled version of English leaving a trail of nonsensical doublespeak. You toy with the mute button on your remote. Suddenly, those pending chores seem feasible.

The soccer in the Barclay’s Premier League is compelling if one enjoys watching overpaid athletes chase a ball around an acre of manicured grass, but the colorless commentary of their sweaty endeavors is repelling.

The main play-by-play presenters are engaging enough; having mastered elocution they provide pleasing commentary. Sure they occasionally say something stupid but it sounds utterly convincing with their English accent. Besides, they are at least amusing, unlike their inarticulate sidekicks.

These sidekicks are invariably ex-players with indecipherable enunciation, woeful vocabularies and bad pronunciation. When they say something stupid, which would be about every minute, it sounds utterly stupid. Here’s a mild example: “I agree on their form, John. Just last week [team] played away to [team] and came away with a result.” Pardon me, I don’t mean to be a stickler for details, but would that result be a win, loss or draw? I don’t have time to track all the scores.

This is more than the trivial inconvenience of a displeased fan whose Sunday afternoon is ruined by the hackneyed analysis of his chosen pleasure. Televised soccer is big business and the Barclays Premier League is the pinnacle. Games from the much ballyhooed league draw massive audiences from Sydney, Australia to Sidney, British Columbia and in hamlets, villages, shanty towns, communes, burgs and major cities betwixt and between.

Surely it’s time to match the Premier League’s obvious marketing prowess with slicker production. Let’s start with some remedial training for the inarticulate sidekicks.

Ironically, we can stay within the self-indulgent world of European soccer for guidance. The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) is the controlling body for European football. Like many unions their regulations are somewhat annoying but they did get one thing right: they instituted a licensing program for potential managers/coaches that culminates with the pro license required to manage a soccer team in the top level of a nation’s league system.

If it’s good enough for coaches it’s good enough for football pundits who try to communicate their presumed superior knowledge of our favorite sport.

When we allow a tradesperson into our house to fix the plumbing or electrical wiring, for example, we ensure they are licensed. Since our spare time is precious, we should demand no less from the football presenters we invite into our living rooms — they should be credentialed lest they unwittingly ruin a perfectly good game.

Would-be football analysts should attain a minimal level of core competencies before pursing their vocation. Communicating to millions of viewers is the nub of their business, so it makes sense they should communicate clearly, if not entertainingly. To that end, a yearlong curriculum that emphasizes fundamental English usage, elocution, diction, vocabulary and public speaking is essential job training.

Former players once skilled with foot on ball, too often put foot in mouth. A football analyst license geared toward effective communication won’t overcome years of intellectual dereliction in school, but it might minimize their gibberish.

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  1. Don

    September 2, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    I wonder if there’s technology sophisticated enough to give us a button on the remote that would allow us the option of muting out the commentators and just having the sound of the game. That would please everyone. I would cut out all tennis commentators on the big networks.

  2. John

    January 7, 2010 at 10:02 am

    Great post. I agree with you 100%. I think they need to ban the Scots first.

  3. vinnie

    January 6, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    for the love of football, just enjoy the game already! some of us can’t even subscribe to pay-tv to watch EPL

    back on topic. GENERALLY, commentators were not footballers and could make use of some thoughts of an ex-player to look at certain matters from a different point of view, both literally and metaphorically.

    sports commentary is an art, if licensing and standard is required, there will be a boring, identical template all co-commentators use

  4. Christopher

    January 6, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    I had started a topic over at AVS Forums about HD coverage of Soccer in the US, and it quickly turned to the poor quality of sportscaster coverage (remember, we’re talking american coverage). Granted, most comments about the sportscasters were from a few years ago now (but the thread is still going! This Fox HD & Setanta news is exciting), but it’s still relevant: there’s no reason why we can’t have quality, inciteful commentary along with the game we love to watch.
    Personally, I enjoy Tommy Smyth’s enthusiasm (I’m sure I spelled his name wrong, but whatever) for example. I agree with some of the other commentators: you have to think fast when you’re a commentator, most of us would fumble this horribly if we were in their shoes. So I appreciate that it’s hard work, and takes skill.
    It could be worse. We could have John Madden as a commentator.

    AVS forum thread:

    John Madden quotes: (my favorite: “Hey, the offensive linemen are the biggest guys on the field, they’re bigger than everybody else, and that’s what makes them the biggest guys on the field.”)

  5. barry

    January 6, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Noel – The “magnificent” part was sarcastic, simply thrown in for the sake of it 🙂

  6. Noel

    January 6, 2010 at 6:36 am

    Louis (comment 4). Huh? Your analysis begs the question, so smug too.
    Many Premier League managers/players/fans who “escape” from one of the so-called top 4 clubs with a draw would consider that a bonus. It may only be one point, but they “came away with a result.”
    Indeed, there is doubt that a “result” is a win.

  7. Noel

    January 6, 2010 at 6:19 am

    I disagree with barr: the author’s thoughts are interesting and pertinent (there’s that thesaurus again) but not really magnificent.
    As someone who has played a lot and watches a lot of English soccer, I just love it, overall. That’s why I don’t want lazy color analysts solely relying on their playing experience — they are privileged to share their insights with a vast audience and should pay the piper, so to speak.
    With coverage beaming out to 152 countries, this is not insignificant (comment 13).
    The EPL is “fan”tastic, and given their high standards they would like to see improvement in media commentary of matches. Who wouldn’t? I like the “finishing school” idea presented in comment 8 — we all know many of these players-cum-pundits could use a little refinement before daring to blabber in front of millions of viewers. Come to think of it, some could’ve used “finishing school” on the pitch, too.

  8. barry

    January 6, 2010 at 3:10 am

    To Noel S. William – unfortunately these “commentators” have about 0.00001 seconds to figure out what to say, unlike yourself who has the comfort of his own computer, access to and about 30 minutes to articulate his magnificent thoughts into a piece aimed at nothing more than self-gratuity. * may have been consulted* :))

  9. Redmaniac

    January 5, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Good grief what are you looking for in a color man, spotless elocution or illumination of the finer points of the game. Frankly I like the accents and I find that most of the color guys on TV to be very educational and instructive. Some people find John Madden’s grunting and growling bothersome I find him to be enilightening. I would think you find something more significant to complain out regarding EPL.

  10. ovalball

    January 5, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    I unnerstand your point you know but like there are crap color commentators everywhere you know? Last week the guy was like you know really really irritating so I just you know muted the sound until there was you know like a goal or sumthin.

    Former athletes are just that…former athletes. Some are better than others. I’ve actually gotten to like Warren Barton so there’s hope for everyone.

  11. Richard

    January 5, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Wah wah wah.

  12. Paul Bestall

    January 5, 2010 at 11:45 am

    There is a whole list of dreadful British pundits who have jobs purely based on the fact they played professional football. Most of them have a job on speaking English that English people can understand, never mind the rest of the world.

  13. Juan-John

    January 5, 2010 at 11:34 am

    The EPL broadcasters should take a lesson from the NFL, which has a “finishing school,” so to speak, for former players looking to transition into the media analyst role.

    • Richard

      January 5, 2010 at 12:29 pm

      That’d make them all carbon-copies of each other and they’d all be equally dull.

  14. scott

    January 5, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Are announcers for ANY sport “certified?” I’ve never heard of such a thing.

    And I think sports announcers would be classified as journalists in the US and I don’t know if a certification system run by a foreign entity (i.e. UEFA) would be acceptable under the US Constitutional system…I’m giving this way more thought than it deserves.

    Argh…I love football, but I’m seriously getting tired of “fans” complaining about every little nit-picky thing regarding US coverage of international football.

    • The Gaffer

      January 5, 2010 at 11:39 am

      Scott, I don’t think Noel is criticizing the US coverage of international football. He’s criticizing co-commentators, most of whom are from England, and are the same co-commentators all of us around the world hear (for the most part).

      The Gaffer

      • scott

        January 5, 2010 at 11:51 am

        point taken…though there are bad color commentators across the sports universe.

        People either love or hate Dick Vitale, Lee Corso, etc. I just think Noel is taking this way too seriously.

        He’s complaining about diction? I guess I expect to have a little trouble understanding someone from a different country with a different accent. I may not understand every word coming out of their mouth, but that’s part of the beauty of watching foreign coverage of sports, news, tv, etc.

        Yes, some of the UK accents (and Australian, South African, French, Russian, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, etc…) can be difficult to decipher for those of us (in the US and I’m sure across the world), but why should we expect those folks to adjust their style…I’m sure somewhere in the world there are people who have trouble with American accents too.

        Personally, I find part of the glory of football is hearing the diversity of languages used from around the world and their accents in their languages and in English. I’m a Liverpool fan and I work extra hard to understand Rafa and Torres, and especially Carragher and Gerrard…I certainly don’t expect them to change themselves so I can understand.

        If you want to understand the world…it is you who must exert effort, not the world.

  15. Louis

    January 5, 2010 at 11:20 am

    Here’s a mild example: “I agree on their form, John. Just last week [team] played away to [team] and came away with a result.” Pardon me, I don’t mean to be a stickler for details, but would that result be a win, loss or draw? I don’t have time to track all the scores.

    I don’t know if you have to be English or not to understand that ‘coming away with a result’ would without any doubt imply a win. I genuinely can’t think of any situation where anybody would call a loss ‘a result’. wow.

  16. Mike

    January 5, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Stop winning…. This is United States of America, the american anouncers are welcome to cover matches for their american audiance. British expat are not the only ones watching soccer in America. So obviousy they shoudn’t have special treatment.

    You complain about everything. I doubt an american in GB will complain about basketball broadcasting being different than what is provided in the states.

    Are american broascasters also allowed to comment on Tennis? Or do we need the brits for that one too.

    It’s not all about you! Every other post you are winning about something.

    • The Gaffer

      January 5, 2010 at 11:14 am

      Mike, the word is “whining” and if you’re aiming the criticism at me, I didn’t write the article.

      The Gaffer

  17. Avi

    January 5, 2010 at 8:29 am

    Just watch the game and don’t be a tite-ass.

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