AMSTERDAM NETHERLANDS - JULY 11: Holland fans show off their orange colours as they arrive to watch the FIFA2010 World Cup final between Netherlands and Spain on a large screen near the Rijksmuseum on July 11 2010 in Amsterdam Netherlands. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
As a thief, we seek to take what you do, steal the good parts, and make what we do better without giving you credit. Today, we steal the good, healthy organs from The World Cup body, and take them home to the United States for our own use.
GET SOME INTELLIGENT ANNOUNCING. ESPN's small city of announcers and commentators has a diverse spread of intellectual neighborhoods.
Baseball and the NFL are the slums, dark streets where at night you can watch the rats run in the gutters and hear Merrill Hoge yelling at a television set in a dingy, lonely flophouse room.The NBA is the middle class neighborhood where everyone wonders how they can improve their home prices by getting that loud Mr. Smith to leave their block, the NHL is a quiet suburb with negative population growth on the outskirts of town, and horse racing is just Kenny Mayne's lone house out on the ranch with a guest suite for Hank Goldberg when he comes to stay.
(At night they sit in lawnchairs sipping vermouths and admiring the pastel colors of the desert sunset wordlessly. True friends don't need conversation sometimes.)
College football is the pleasant upper middle class neighborhood. Sometimes old man Holtz gets crazy and starts tending his garden without his pants, but that's just the price of good schools and living near great neighbors like Rece Davis.
In this metaphor, ESPN's soccer announcing went purple ribbon standard and is now the the intellectual Ginza or Fifth Avenue on the commentary map. And like with any other piece of prime real estate, they did it the old fashioned way: they bought it. Martin Tyler and Efan Okuku on matches were peerless, but Ian Darke was just as good as Tyler and more compatible with the excitable American aesthetic. (His "GO GO USA" call following Landon Donovan's goal against Algeria earned him citizen status. His passport is now a dual British/American, and he is entitled to all rights and responsibilities described therein.) If you're looking where to put him categorically, just think Gus Johnson excitedly spilling a cup of tea while making cutting remarks about players diving, and you're in the right spot.
Harkes has his moments of banality, sure, but on the whole the entire lineup--Fowler, Ley, Gullit, McManahan, and Lalas (yes, Lalas)--were superb, witty, smart, and by far the class of ESPN's combined announcing universe for the entirety of the World Cup in a manner that even non-soccer fans could appreciate. That light but deft touch on the analysis and presentation typified everything ESPN hasn't been in other sports, and might want to consider trying on more of across the board.
Ian Darke used the word "cynical" to describe effort during a game. Cynical, y'all. That's some next level ferocity there, and a call to arms for all other sporting universes to follow the instructions of UGK's immortal Bun B:
Read a book you illiterate son of a bitch/and step up your vocab.
Solid advice from a million dollar mack is something one should never, ever ignore, ESPN.
NOISEMAKERS ARE YOUR FRIEND. This is not Stockholm Syndrome: I will sincerely miss the vuvuzela, and not just for the mild dementia that kicked in after four hours straight of hearing it fart over the broadcast. Not all sporting venues should be alike or uniform, and thus the charm of South Africa's favorite sanity prevention horn. You realized you were watching the game somewhere distinct and local, and not just in another sterile noplace set somewhere in the vague sporting universe.
Soccer will sound sadly silent without it whether you want to admit it or not, but the larger issue of homogenization of the game experience at all levels is one of taste. If you can take one lesson from soccer fandom, it's in fan culture dictating the feel of the game, not some dip-nard in the front office deciding they need to "enhance the fan experience." Fenerbahce fans aren't handed road flares and told to jump up and down in the stands. They just do.
They also violate every fire code ever written, but that's not the point. The point is that the fans dictate the experience, and should be allowed to do the same in American sporting venues. Mississippi State fans should keep their cowbells, and vuvuzelas should be allowed wherever they pop up, since fans will either a.) love them, or b.) grab them and shove them a foot into the nostrils of their owner. Either way it's democracy in action, and is something increasingly rare in dictatorial stadium settings throughout sport.
A MANDATORY NOTE ABOUT SOCCER AND ITS PERIODIC LIAISONS WITH AMERICA. Ratings were up 50 percent, and that's a nice stat for those who care about the empirical stats side of things. Anecdotal evidence has a power all its own, though, and mine is this: my mother watched at least one game each round, and did so unbidden by me and of her own volition.
Demographically this is huge news for advertisers since Ma Hall is the canary in the coalmine indicating a cave-in of money waiting to fall in on a brand's head. The list of goods purchased by her is a who's who of American megabrands bought ahead of the curve:
1981: First lady to rock Richard Simmons' fitness gear on the street.
1982: Last bottle perm. Her departure off the perm wagon heralded the death of the hairstyle as we know it.
1989: Bought first Ford Explorer on the block.
1992: Smoothie King evangelist, and hit the Immune Blast before Immune Blast was cool, man.
1993: Was totally into Sheryl Crow before any other mom I knew.
2006: Had the Nintendo Wii on pre-order.
Clearly she's an early adopter deserving of acute attention, but it speaks to a larger point. Typically when discussing soccer in the US there's two arguments made, and both are equally stupid.
One says that soccer is on the verge of an imminent takeover of the United States based on the ratings performance of one quadrennial tournament broadcast through the inescapable main pipeline of ESPN. The other says you're un-American and possibly a terrorist for even watching soccer, and should be deported for even suggesting soccer could ever be popular in the United States because no matter how far you go into the future it will NEVER. HAPPEN. Charleton Heston will be wandering the earth talking to apes with British accents, and soccer will still not be popular.
The rational response is this: the United States is not ready to make soccer part of the harem, but is more than happy to work the World Cup into the rotation as a mistress it sees every now and then with great verve. It's a start, at least, and one ESPN is driving full-bore with their purchase of EPL rights and ever-expanding focus on the sport. You'll be seeing more of her in the future, and should take that mature approach as you move forward in your relationship.
COMMERCIAL FREE. It's anathema to NFL and college football ad buyers, but nothing trumps the experience of watching a sporting event commercial-free. Advertising isn't static, and never has been. At one point announcers actually read ads over the air, often in a fashion quite amusing when seen from the present.
Yes, that was a smooth play by Mantle. Another smooth play you can make is picking up a pack of Flintchestermore cigarettes, the smooth flavor that helps athletes stay cool on the field by expanding lung capacity, enhancing reflexes, and giving baseball athletes the vitamins and stamina they need. Why, I'm smoking two right now just to ensure this broadcast of Yankees baseball is brought to you with the highest possible degree of clarity and accuracy. Flintchestermore! The taste that goes in your chest!
No one misses on-air ads, and no one would miss the incessant breakup of game action (especially in football) in favor of uninterrupted sport with banner ads and on-field advertising. Sure, FOX would find some way to make it inhumanly repellent, but that's what FOX does to everything. Then they put Joe Buck in to cover it. Then, the tears and lamentations begin and do not cease forever.