The faces and voices of growing diversity in soccer coverage

Diversity in Soccer Coverage

Diversity is fluid. It is one of those things that is hard to define. But, simultaneously, you know when it exists.

Soccer, like so many other sports, developed a stereotype for including only white men.

That’s no slight of the sport. It is merely a reflection of society and its progressive nature only over the last half-century.

In fact, soccer is perhaps the most diverse and progressive sport in the world. Sure, it helps when billions of people play and watch the sport. It’s ease of access, opportunity regardless of socioeconomic standing and simplicity allows the game to grow.

Over the years, soccer grew to be the most international and accommodating game. There are professional leagues across the world, and players from miniscule countries produce players that play on the biggest stage.

This trend extends into media coverage. Albeit, that growth is slower than its on-field counterpart.

For decades, the stereotype of soccer coverage, at least in the United States, revolved around old white men. The belief was that these commentators or pundits provided insight based on experience in the game. However, this often came at the expense of energy in a broadcast.

This was not always the case. Ray Hudson is not young, but you would be hard-pressed to find someone as energetic as him in the booth. Jeff Stelling and the rest of the Soccer Saturday crew embody the physical side of the claim. Yet, they consistently produce some of the most enjoyable content for Sky Sports.

Such is the nature of stereotypes and stigmas. They exist, but they are not the standard. Or, more accurately, they should not be the standard.

Certain members of the soccer media work to break down those artificial barriers. There are any number of names, but the members of the media listed below represent those pioneers.

Diversity in different forms

Race

The first thought people have when they hear ‘diversity’ is likely race. It dominates the headlines, as seen with the recent incidents between Hungary fans and England players during a World Cup qualifier.

Regardless of differing opinions on the effectiveness of taking a knee before kickoffs, we see steps in development. That exists in the booth.

Seb Hutchinson is a play-by-play commentator that often can be heard on Premier League broadcasts.

READ MORE: How to watch the Premier League on U.S. TV.

Hutchinson is one of the broadcasters in an interesting position. As a black man, he provides insight that many cannot. Pundits, fans and players grumble at the racist incidents that, frankly, happen too often. They question ‘how can this be going on?’ or ‘why don’t these fan bases just learn some acceptance?’

The inherent thought is that these racist incidents are negatives. This is certainly a valid opinion, but Seb Hutchinson actually provides a different take on it.

“I see them all as positives. This stuff has been happening for a long time. The difference is now is that it is being reported in a different way. Everybody seems to be on board with it when they are reporting it. It creates a stir in a way that is positive, in the idea that it is trying to force change.”

Raheem Sterling after scoring against Hungary. Credit: AFP

And that’s the difference. Movement, albeit not as hastily as society may request, is still a positive consequence.

“This is the best time for this to happen. Not that long ago, there were laws in place to prevent different ethnicities from doing things.”

Over time, false stereotypes prevented black people from reaching upper-tier position in the media and sporting world. Those barriers still stand. However, pioneers, which include Seb Hutchinson, slowly broke those walls down.

Hutchinson, a black man working in what is a predominantly white area, feels that diversity is a product of inclusion.

“A lot of it is about belonging and safe spaces for people. It’s often about inclusion. Do you enjoy being in those spaces where those things happen?”

Moreover, the media side is often a reflection of what we see on the field.

“From a black person’s view, there is plenty of inclusion on the pitch. You immediately feel like you do feel connected with it. I’ve never felt uncomfortable in that regard.”

Likewise, the play-by-play commentator attributes the opportunities provided. Soccer is perhaps the most diverse and culturally rich sport in the world due to its international nature. On the media side, the provision of these roles uses diversity on the field to its advantage.

You have to have equal access to any sort of situation. It has to be open and inclusive. Diversity creates that solution.”

For inclusion’s sake, Seb Hutchinson acts as a beacon for minority children to break into the media side of sport. If these young hopefuls see him being so successful, they’ll know they can also achieve that mark.

“I hope it gives people belief that they can do it. Just the fact that I’m there, I’d hope that gives people the belief that they can do it.”

Racism in sport is an enigma. Still, Hutchinson does see a day when racism will peter out. It may not be in his lifetime, but that day will come.

Gender

No strides in terms of progress compare to that of women’s development in soccer. Domestically, the U.S. Women’s National Team pulls in as many, if not more, viewers than their male counterparts.

For example, 22 percent more Americans watched the 2019 Women’s World Cup Final than the Men’s final from 2018. That is almost a three-million-person difference between the two games.

Granted, the U.S. played, and won that game in 2019, meaning more Americans had a personal stake. France and Croatia do not have the same magnitude stateside.

In league play, the NWSL’s quick rise bolsters the game in the United States. In Europe, club competitions in the women’s game still pale in comparison to the men’s game, but increased investment certainly raises interest.

Reforms to the UEFA Women’s Champions League mean that clubs receive money for qualifying. In turn, they receive the opportunity to continue investment of their own for players, coaches, fan experience and other ways.

Surely, the women’s game will grow. In doing so, opportunities will open up for women in media coverage, as we have seen in recent years.

Rebecca Lowe

Rebecca Lowe on site for NBC’s coverage of the Premier League.

Rebecca Lowe

NBC’s studio host for the Premier League started covering soccer 19 years ago. Back then, she won a talent competition that yielded a six-month stint as a reporter for the BBC.

Lowe shares many sentiments with Minnesota United color commentator (and American) Kyndra de St. Aubin. Yet, Lowe set herself on a soccer path via her time with the BBC.

However, she found the soccer media industry painfully isolating with its relative lack of diversity. There were only a handful of jobs available for women in the business. In England and the United Kingdom, ITV, BBC and Sky Sports were the only companies to provide opportunities to those like Lowe.

“Back when I was coming through, it was hard to really form a sisterhood and sort of feel like you had support because we were all going for the one or two jobs at the networks.”

Likewise, she says there were not many role models that she could look up to or reach out to in her rise.

Lowe’s seclusion and prevention from ascending the metaphorical ladder almost forced her out of the media world as a whole.

“I was very close to giving up before I took the job at NBC. I was fed up with the sexism and I was fed up with the constant fighting, and I had enough of the industry.”

Essentially, Rebecca Lowe fought a system in place since the beginning of soccer coverage in the world. Fortunately for her, and Premier League fans in the United States, she joined NBC as their studio host when they earned the rights to broadcast the league in the U.S.

“I definitely found it easier in the U.S. in terms of the general public. The welcome and the acceptance in the U.S. I found much better than in the U.K.”

That welcoming feeling from the United States ballooned into making her one of the most recognized faces of soccer in the United States. Social media users put Lowe and the Premier League hand-in-hand.

Furthermore, Rebecca Lowe is a pioneer in terms of diversity through her impact on young girls that want to match Lowe’s career. Whether it be her mentoring two or three young girls trying to enter the industry or just the general public, her reach continues to grow.

“I get quite a lot of parents sending me messages explaining that I am a role model for their young daughters, some as old as 7 or 8.”

In the future, it should be interesting to see how many analysts or hosts say Rebecca Lowe was their inspiration for their careers.

Kyndra de St. Aubin

“If you see someone doing it, someone who looks like you, sounds like you, talks like you, they feel like they can do that too.”

Those are the words of Kyndra de St. Aubin. She works as the color commentator for MLS side Minnesota United.

De St. Aubin got into the media world without the intention of covering soccer. However, she did play college soccer for the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota.

For Kyndra, it was about what opportunities she could take advantage of as she got started in sports media.

She covered an indoor soccer team in Milwaukee before also taking on Bucks and Brewers coverage. Perhaps De St. Aubin covered these sports as opposed to soccer because the game did not demand such coverage then.

“I didn’t come out of college to be a soccer analyst, that wasn’t a thing when I was coming out of [school]. That was only the major sports.”

She got into soccer because of her past expertise as a player. She covered BIG 10 soccer before receiving a trial to cover the Women’s World Cup. Success in that regard provided the chance to be a color commentator for the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

 

She says her predecessors allowed her and other women to have the opportunities for diversity that currently exist. Now, it is just about continuing to push the boundaries.

“I’ve been fortunate because I know there are women who’ve faced barriers. But, I am the recipient of those other women breaking those other barriers ahead of me. It was a slightly easier road than they had to take.”

It is always an uphill climb for diversity in terms of women in sports. Still, it appears that battle is leveling out after decades of perseverance.

Age

Soccer coverage owns a stereotype of being traditionally older. Former players and coaches provide expertise that a younger generation could not. Typically, outright journalists or pundits require decades of learning the game to provide the same level of insight.

There are certain consequences however. In a general, and fairly vague way, the older the pundit, the less energy they provide.

There are obviously exceptions to this assertion. For example, Ray Hudson, no matter how poor or great of a color commentator you think he is, provides an unmatched energy to his broadcasts.

But, once again generally speaking, the youth can provide a different perspective than the normal analysts, hosts and commentators we usually see and hear from.

The United States has an opportunity that other nations lack. The U.S. does not have a long-standing history of soccer. There is potential to grow the game in a different way by putting diversity at the forefront. We are already seeing it with women in the industry, now we see it in terms of age.

Matteo Bonetti

One of the most prominent younger figures in the soccer media world is Matteo Bonetti. Currently, Bonetti works for CBS and their coverage of Serie A on Paramount+. Previously, he worked with beIN SPORTS and ESPN as a color commentator and an analyst.

Bonetti is, relatively speaking, young. He is in his 30s, so the first inclination is that he is inexperienced. In fact, Bonetti started his tenure in soccer media coming out of college, starting as a blogger with ESPN. He always believed TV analysts belonged solely to former players or coaches.

“I never once thought I would get the opportunity to be an analyst because I wasn’t a professional player.”

Bonetti understands that he lacks some of the information others could provide from direct involvement in the game. His diversity in terms of age does allow him to practice other methods of entertainment. For one, that could be things that are not directly tied to the game itself. Rather, anecdotes or interactions outside of what we see on the pitch to give audiences a new view.

“In my style, I will bring the tactics. But, I also will bring fun color stories that maybe you won’t get from an ex-player who only focuses on the tactical side of things. I overcompensate by offering the curiosities of the game that maybe a new fan will latch on to.”

This is the trend of U.S. coverage of soccer. Analysis is essential, which Bonetti provides, but to grow the game people must be interested.

It may be considered a gamble taking relatively unproven talent and throwing them on air, but the results yielded benefits on both ends. Paramount+ has a great crew for their studio show Calcio e Cappuccino, which includes Bonetti.

As he describes, beIN SPORTS was a youth factory of commentators. Those analysts and commentators blossomed into part of the youth takeover of coverage.

“It is fun to see people who have similar backgrounds, younger talent Americans all getting together and being able to share that passion. The energy really shows on air.”

Nico Cantor

On the topic of energy, youthful exuberance thrives on another Paramount+ program, the Golazo! Show which provides whip-around coverage of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League.

The host, Nico Cantor, is notably energetic in his role as the host of the studio show. His charisma and overall enthusiasm during the broadcasts provides an enjoyable experience for viewers.

He says he is “living the dream” working with great players of yesteryear: Jamie Carragher, Micah Richards, Peter Schmeichel, Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg.

Cantor, like Bonetti, provides diversity in soccer coverage through his youth. Moreover, he leans towards providing information that audiences do not get on the field.

The American has significant ties to Latin America, but, as seen in his broadcasts, he is proudly American. He makes sure to mention USMNT players that are on teams in Champions League or Europa League competition.

“I watch broadcasts from all over the world. When there is an Argentine playing in the Premier League, I think people only care about the Argentine broadcast because of the Argentine player. I think a lot of people here tune into the Juventus games to see how Weston McKennie is doing.”

In a way, Cantor helps to grow the game by using the game.

He identifies two audiences: a group of USMNT supporters, and the European soccer reporters. He wants to bridge that gap to aid both sides’ understanding of the game at large.

Of course, many of those fans are younger and just getting into the game. In that regard, it helps to be up-to-date on styles and mania.

“I am caught up on the social media trends and what the younger audience might be into.”

Additionally, while Cantor is young, he is not inexperienced. His time working in radio created the studio host and analyst we see today.

He serves as another example of diversity through young talent providing great content in terms of soccer coverage.

The bigger picture

These five media members are pioneers, yes. That does not mean they are the only ones pushing the pre-established barriers into soccer coverage. There could be any number of names.

Kate Abdo can speak four languages, and she is now one of the best hosts for soccer in the world. Maurice Edu, albeit a former player in Europe and for the USMNT, is one of the few black pundits for soccer worldwide. Kay Murray is one of ESPN’s studio hosts for their coverage of international matches, LaLiga and Bundesliga. Finally, as Matteo Bonetti mentioned, there are masses of young broadcasters in the pipeline ready to shine.

Fortunately for those that are ready to take the next step, we see the work of Seb, Rebecca, Kyndra, Matteo and Nico wear down some of the predispositions against diversity in soccer coverage. The United States could be the stage for the next generation of great soccer media talent.

In time, expect diversity to thrive in the media industry revolving around the beautiful game.

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