During a break in the action on this past Saturday’s broadcast of Sunderland against Manchester United, ESPN’s commentator Ian Darke mentioned that Clint Dempsey had just scored a goal for Fulham away at West Ham United. At first, I was ready to cry blasphemy at Darke’s decision to break one of the cardinal rules of commentating which is not to tell people what the scores are in the other matches played at the same time. But the more I thought about it, the less it bothered me.
After sleeping on it, it bothered me even less but got me thinking whether soccer at some time in the future may adopt a TV presentation closer to the NFL. For example, on a typical Saturday there are often five to six Premier League matches that begin at the 10am ET/3pm GMT kick-off time. Imagine if you had the choice of watching each match separately, or this may seem sacrilegious, you also had the choice to watch the top billing match. And then throughout the game, when a break happens, the broadcast would break away to show you the replay of whenever a goal was scored in a different game that was being played at the same time.
Despite soccer games only having one break in the 90 minutes of action, the reality is that there are plenty of opportunities in a typical game to splice in highlights especially when players are injured or there’s a lull in the game. I realize that the concept flies right in the face of everything we love about soccer, but I believe it’s something that TV networks should consider sometime in the future. By featuring such a production I realize that there’s a risk that TV networks would be taking which is that they miss a goal or a significant moment in the main game they’re showing, but the advantages far outweigh the negatives.
How we consume soccer games has changed considerably in the past few years. For the past several decades we soccer fans have been conditioned to expect to see a game in its entirety but to view it in isolation of what is happening elsewhere in the outside soccer league or world. But this method was built way before there was Twitter or the Internet. We’ve grown up watching soccer games the same way ever since the sport began being shown on television. But nowadays the quantity of live games available to watch has increased significantly. So much so that now in countries such as the United States every Premier League game is available live to watch either on television and/or the Internet each weekend.
Because the quantity of games available has increased, I believe viewing habits are changing. I know my own are especially this season. I used to watch the early Saturday kick-off followed by one or two of the 10am ET/3pm GMT matches and then the late Premier League kick-off. But now that I have access to FoxSoccer.tv and ESPN3.com, I’m finding that I’m still watching the early and late kick-offs as usual, but my viewing of the 10am games has changed significantly. I’ve tried playing “roulette” by flipping back and forth between the five live games online. I’ve tried having several windows on my browser open at the same time. I’ve tried skipping the games entirely and then just watching the highlights. And I’ve tried other tactics too such as watching Match Of The Day instead. But as U2 once said, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
This is why the NFL approach may have some advantages at some point in the future. That’s only if TV networks don’t mind cannibalizing some of its own matches to bump up ratings for their ‘top billing’ match. Although I realize many soccer fans would rebel against such a notion, I still feel it’s something that should be considered especially if soccer fans can choose either to watch the NFL-style production or they can choose to watch the normal feed of the game without fear of having the results of the other games spoiling their weekend.
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