Martin Tyler + ESPN + World Cup + USMNT = ???

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As has been reported around the online soccer world, ESPN has secured the services of announcer Martin Tyler (of EPL and of EA Sports FIFA video game series fame) to call the World Cup for the Worldwide Leader. (No official word as to whether he will be joined by Andy Gray.)

Tyler has called every Word Cup since 1974.

Tyler has called every Word Cup since 1974.

Two things about the move that are somewhat interesting when considered in tandem…

  1. Tyler won’t be changing his style to be more “American,” which isn’t that surprising.  Said Tyler, “I think I’ve been acquired for what I am and not what I might become … I think maybe those who have made the decision about me would like to get, if you like, a more global feel to what is a global game.”
  2. ESPN is considering having Tyler assigned to all USMNT games.

The hiring is a boon to purists and die-hards, but it will be interesting to see how it will play to those not well-versed in soccer (or to Tyler, “football”) who will tune into games out of some combination of global spectacle, curiosity and patriotism, among other things. Regardless of what a “Tyler call” adds to the game for those who follow soccer, it will make the game less accessible to those who don’t.

From a “soccer in America” perspective, it would be a risk for ESPN to assign Tyler to all USMNT games as an English voice and “global feel” could be a turn-off to the general American public and could ultimately dampen the boost that soccer gets in America every four years via the World Cup. (This is by no means a certainty, but not out of the realm of possibility either.)

On the other hand, as ESPN has staked its claim to English soccer (over American soccer) they may want to use the World Cup to breed more familiarity with an English / European call of the game in an attempt to enhance the profile and likelihood of success for the WWL’s future broadcasts. For as ESPN has shown, soccer coverage, or lack thereof, is purely a business decision.

Here’s a taste of the FA Premier Commentator of the Decade at work. (via The Big Lead)

18 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Shane on 2009/10/19 at 8:38 AM

    I think this is an AMAZING move… Martin Tyler IS soccer.. If people dont like him becuase he has an english accent then I dont care if soccer becomes popular here.. We should be more mature and realize that this is a world game very popular in every country in the world…Soccer is the greatest game in the world in my opinion!


    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/10/19 at 8:44 AM

      “We should be more mature and realize that this is a world game”

      Couldn’t agree more, Shane. Soccer in America is stuck in a place between “what is” and “what should be.” It is going to be a long process to cultivate a wide fan base to a global game here.

      (Thanks for the comment.)


  2. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/19 at 8:46 AM

    Gotta be honest, an impartial perspective to the USMNT from a quality broadcaster I think is priceless.

    It would be like Marv Albert announcing an Olympiacos game. I think it can only help.

    Also–and this might be fit another column–for some reason Fox (Wynalda) and ESPN (Lalas) seem to think that older generation players provide commentary.

    In fact, they don’t because they are jaded by their own experiences and an inferiority complex and that sullies the experience at least for me.

    Good move here…ESPN has a long, long…..long way to go, but this would be a step in the right direction.


    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/10/19 at 8:59 AM

      An impartial perspective is great for those that watch the game. And there aren’t many people that like the work of newly “old players” on broadcasts due to a number of biases in many directions.

      That being said, when it is America versus The World, I think the general viewing public likes some American support from the broadcast booth. Thinking back to this past Olympics, the men’s 400M freestyle relay was certainly enhanced (from a viewing perspective) by an “American call” when the US out-touched the French / Germans (?) at the wall to keep alive Phelps hopes for 8 golds.


  3. Posted by Kevin on 2009/10/19 at 9:53 AM

    Seems like a good move. I laugh at the thought of having Andy Gray too though. Honostly if Americans don’t want to watch something because of the race of the commentator, than we have much work to do as a nation. To say we’re a great nation, even though we can’t accept different races, would just cause MORE countries to laugh at us.

    I remember hearing someone say (on TSG I think) that they saw a broadcast with an English and an American commentator. I remember them saying they loved it, and it seems like a good idea to have an unbiased (English commentator) paired with a biased American commentator for the world cup that way people trying to give soccer a shot can enjoy the biased opinion of how great US soccer is.

    If there were English and American commentators paired up, am I the only one who wants to see the US and England in the same group?


    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/10/19 at 10:27 AM

      Kevin, I was NOT suggesting that American fans would be turned off of the broadcast due to race. Rather, I was commenting on the type of play-by-play, cultural references and verbiage. There may be some bias relative to an English accent and its stereotypical / blueblood connotations, but I was speaking to the accessibility of the game and enjoyability of the broadcast (relative to American expectations) in my post.

      I like the English / American combo idea, who would you suggest?


      • Posted by Matt B on 2009/10/19 at 11:36 AM

        I wouldn’t mind Claudio Reyna getting a shot in the booth. He seems like a pretty intelligent guy with a good mind for the game. Also, John O’Brien isn’t doing anything, maybe someone could give him a call


      • Posted by Kevin on 2009/10/20 at 8:56 AM

        I know that, but it seems like something inmature we would do. I could already see it because people always say in America “I’m not racist” but then they do something racist. That sort of comes from all races to all races, but it doesn’t necassarily mean those people hate that race.
        I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like talking about race it seems so… overdone and I don’t think racial anything should really be involved in soccer/football.


      • Posted by Kevin on 2009/10/20 at 9:18 AM

        forgot to make my suggestion, and yeah I was talking a little more stereotypical than actual racial stuff.

        I’m not sure who I would like. Maybe we should give some old players that have not yet tried that out, but actually know what they’re talking about. Has Lalas tried it out before? Who ever it is should have enough passion to go crazy in the booth when his team scores. If Chuck is out of the World Cup send him in. Especially if he’s never able to suit up again, but I don’t think that’ll happen. It’s a little hard pressed to think of an American commentator with passion.

        Here’s a few you might find funny (I’m not suggesting these for real)
        Find an American Outlaw to go in there.
        Bring in Wynalda (haha)


  4. Posted by kaya on 2009/10/19 at 10:27 AM

    Screw catering to the lowest denominator, I say. That’s what got us the fabled O’Brien/Balboa coverage in 2006.
    I’m not very well versed in the world of commentating, but I certainly hope they leave all the former players off if they decide they need an american voice. They’d be the last to admit they saw something more amazing than they ever accomplished, anyhow.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/19 at 11:33 AM

      Oh wow, I now remember the O’Brian / Balboa coverage. Balboa was atrocious.

      Thanks, I think, for that trip down memory lane.


      • Posted by Berg on 2009/10/19 at 3:00 PM

        The way Balboa made it sound he played every position on the pitch back in his day, and oh, did he tell you about this one time…

        Anything is a step up from ’06.


  5. Posted by fropa98 on 2009/10/19 at 11:03 AM

    I think many soccer fans are already used to this announcer from playing EA Sports. I learned a lot of terminology from Gray and Tyler from FIFA 97 and 98. I do not believe he will turn off even the casual observer because his style is very professional and entertaining. I never believed that John Madden and Pat Summerall hurt the NFL overseas.


    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/10/19 at 11:25 AM

      All FIFA titles across all platforms have only sold 10.27 million copies since 1997. So while it will certainly help, its penetration is not deep enough to have a material impact on the general American public which is what my post is speaking to.


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/19 at 3:11 PM

        I think the casual fan will not notice his commentary, but if his voice is identified with from a video game I believe that is good.

        I actually do think it will resonate. I know I identified more with John Madden after the Madden game series came out.

        My two, non-analytical, cents.


        • Posted by Kevin on 2009/10/20 at 9:03 AM

          Who thinks they should change the game from “Fifa” to “Gray-Tyler” or “Tyler-Gray”? Madden has his game where he’s the commentator.


  6. […] will be directed at viewers with a high level of understanding of the game. Announcers, including the recently hired Martin Tyler, will not “Americanize” the call nor will the commentary be dumbed-down, so to speak, for more […]


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