Editor’s note: In Kartik’s weekly column, he reviews broadcast media happenings around the soccer world. Every Monday, he discusses the latest happenings in the US soccer broadcast media scene including offering his observations and analysis about the highs and lows of the previous weekend of soccer coverage.
Arlo White’s summer in Chicago – a more natural fit for him than England
Arlo White’s summer sojourn as the Chicago Fire’s commentator was announced last week. White’s move got lots of play and good press for MLS. White had family in Chicago, and brings credibility to the club that is trying hard to repair its image as they reboot and rebrand for 2020.
White is a fan of the Chicago Bears and Chicago Cubs. He had family in the Windy City and visited it as a youngster, so the move is natural. White’s commentary style on TV is very well-suited to the American ear, much more so than it is to the British one. White converses with his co-commentators and goes on tangents with them at about the same frequency as FOX Sports lead soccer commentator John Strong. But for whatever reason, most of Strong’s commentary chatter seems more relevant to what I am watching on the pitch. Or perhaps Strong’s commentary is just more relevant to my tastes?
The style honed on radio from calling sports with frequent stoppages like cricket and American football is, at times, ill-suited for the soccer commentary booth in Britain. White’s skill however is undisputedly outstanding when it comes to presenting pre- and post- match programs from the UK. And MLS local broadcasts have a significant element of this.
Will White’s Chicago summer impact his demeanor, cadence and commentary style on NBC’s Premier League coverage? Only time will tell.
Summer club tournaments can drive TV numbers and change soccer landscape in US
UEFA’s interest in teaming up with the International Champions Cup to compete with FIFA’s expanded Club World Cup could shake up the TV landscape this summer. Club soccer has become a fixture-congested nightmare during the seasons, but in the US market it misses out on the lucrative summer TV season when competition is minimal.
Part of the attraction of international soccer in the US market are tournaments featuring the World Cup, European Championship and Copa America taking place when the NBA and NHL have, at most, a week left to play. Plus it’s when American football is not being played and baseball is in its midseason lull. Golf’s US Open is four days, while Wimbledon just isn’t a big deal in the US anymore. The Open Championship usually falls after the end of big summer tournaments.
I have never bought into the view that international soccer alone drives excitement for summer tournaments in the United States. From my vantage point, much of it in this market is timing. My feeling is the FIFA World Cup in 2022 will not do very well on American television when compared to previous tournaments.
I have always felt some sort of club entry with the passion club soccer brings would be successful in the summer on US TV. Major League Soccer (MLS) has never captured that because quite frankly the stakes aren’t very high. And to enough potential viewers, it appears inadequate or inauthentic.
FIFA’s expanded Club World Cup will probably be less attractive as a TV proposition than any competition tournament that primarily involves European clubs with a few from South America. Very few clubs outside those two regions have a payroll that can compete for players and be competitive in a larger tournament.
One of those exceptions is CF Monterrey, the richest club in North America and a team that pushed European champions Liverpool to the brink this December in the Club World Cup. Liga MX is the most popular league in the US and a Liga MX (or MLS) club playing over the summer in a FIFA club tournament has the potential to drive monster ratings.
ESPN currently holds the ICC rights and if they were to broadcast a new UEFA-backed tournament, it could blow the FIFA one out of the water in theory. But another element may enter into this discussion – could FIFA use its relationship with locales such as Qatar to pull PSG for instance out of the UEFA club competition orbit? Would they be able to then violate UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) scheme without consequence and have the safety valve of a FIFA tournament?
Another driver of interest would be the simple comparison between events on ESPN and FOX. Unless FOX uses its over-the-air channel, ESPN’s prominence generally leads to higher ratings for sporting events. Add to that the built-in skepticism many soccer fans in the US have with any FOX broadcast of the sport, and ESPN would probably win any head-to-head. Spanish language rights would also play a role as both Telemundo and Univision have in the last three years made strides in breaking into English-dominant households as a viewing option.
There are still so many questions to answer, but one thing is for sure from where I sit. This is potentially the most positive development for club soccer on US TV in years.
If we have two competing club tournaments during the summer of 2021, it would give club soccer in this country the boost it hasn’t had in some time on television. It would probably be the biggest happening in the TV space of club soccer since NBC gained the Premier League rights in 2013.
ESPN FC’s coverage of the FA Cup and German Cup
The history of the FA Cup on American television took another turn last week when, for the first time, the 5th round was held midweek due to the Premier League’s winter break forcing a change in the schedule.
For ESPN+‘s coverage of Tuesday’s Chelsea-Liverpool match at Stamford Bridge, the network actively promoted the ESPN+ telecast all morning on SportsCenter and then had wraparound ESPN FC coverage with pre, halftime and post match coverage.
Liverpool’s defeat, the third for the presumptive Premier League champions in a fortnight, was met with minimal skepticism by ESPN FC’s studio talent. But why? Klopp’s Liverpool can collect all the League and European trophies it wants, but any comparison with the best of Sir Alex’s United, Jose’s Chelsea, Wenger’s Arsenal and Manchester City since the takeover will show a huge voice for LFC in the domestic cups. When is all said and done historically, Liverpool’s “greatness” of this era will be questioned if they don’t start competing to win the FA Cup or League Cup. That this was ignored by the ESPN FC gang was a shocker to me as the historical level analysis on that show is usually top-notch.
ESPNU televised the German Cup clash between Eintracht Frankfurt and Werder Bremen last week. Adrian Healey and Kasey Keller presented a good broadcast and a preview of what the Bundesliga on ESPN and ESPN+ could look like next season. Keller is an impressive co-commentator and one whose objectivity has rankled many a Seattle Sounder fan over the years. When he’s available for ESPN, he makes a good option for the Bundesliga.
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