Posts Tagged ‘ESPN’

World’s Best 20?

Not even good enough to be considered a bridesmaid

So I was putzing around ESPN’s main site and came about this little fun widget thingy.

First, the fact that this was accessible from ESPN’s homepage shows how far soccer has come. It’s often mentioned on Sportscenter and there is usually a highlight or two in every show…and somewhat frequently a great goal or play from the champions league, premiership and or MLS is shown in the top ten.

There was nothing remotely close to this 4 years ago (yes, Soccernet was popular but was treated more like the red haired bastard step child of the Worldwide leader…the Roger Clinton to Bill Clinton as it were). I excitedly filled out my rankings, ignoring the fact that Ballack and Henry were mentioned in the world’s top 20, and where as my bottom 3 and top 3 were fairly consistent with the ESPN sports nation poll, the middle varied drastically. For example, I had both Xavi and Iniesta ranked very high as I believe what they do is bed-wettingly-exciting and Eto’o ranked close to last which seemed the opposite of most people. I personally think the Barcelona creative engine are in the top 6.

Now…2 questions for all of you…First: Who is noticeably absent from this list? I would suggest that Ballack, Henry, Eto’o have no business being there (4 years ago. yes) but I see why they are, as they are who the general public might recognize.

There is also no goalkeeper or defender on this list (Maicon is a defender like Roberto Carlos or Dani Alves are defenders!) which I guess means they cannot be considered an MVP (Cannavaro anyone?). Iker Cassilas deserves to be on this list, if not for the fact that he has been one of the top 3 goalkeepers for over a decade but for this incredible save. Others that should certainly be on this list are Ibra and Aguero amongst others but who else? Your thoughts?

Second…does your ranking list compare to Sportsnations’…aside from Messi, Ronaldo and Kaka in the top three, the only other one I got compared to others was Stevie G at 9.

So have fun with it…remember that ESPN are probably catering to the new somewhat informed fan not the hardcore one, but it does bring up an interesting argument about what is considered an MVP in soccer.

Time and time again, Claude Makelele was considered the MVP by his teammates of every team he played for, but he was about as exciting as…as…as…a very boring thing. He never scored goals, he rarely passed the decisive pass BUT no team won without him. For country he was equally important. He made everyone around him better, did all the dirty things such as make hard tackles, hold up play for the forwards to get there, make the pass that set up the attacking play etc…but never even cracked the ten for FIFA footballer of the year (guess here).

Is a January move to the Premiership in the cards?

And while we’re on the subject of winning players….the same goes for Jay DeMerit at Watford. He was often in the top three voting for  player of the year for Watford and his no nonsense, tough, smart defending was instrumental in Watford getting promoted (he scored the first goal in the playoff final too) and if it wasn’t for their lack of goals they would have stayed up in the EPL.

I hope he gets another chance this transfer window to play in the Premiership. I see him as a poor man’s Jamie Carragher (I say poor man’s only because he hasn’t proved himself at the very top like Carra) and he is what many teams like Everton, Man City, Hull etc. need right now. I would love to have him at Liverpool except that Benitez would never play him even though he is the type of player that Benitez covets.

His only downside is that he’s slow but many great defenders are not blessed with any speed..Terry, Maldini, Blanc to name a few statues. Personally, I think he’s better than Gooch as he doesn’t make many mistakes (I think Carragher vesus Rio Ferdinand is a good comparison between DeMerit and Oneywu) and will be key to the US’s progress in the WC.

So thank you ESPN for trying. You’re getting there. Everyone loves the MVP talk but like in all sports, the real MVPs often get unnoticed.

Spanning The World With The Worldwide Leader

This is Part III in a series of pieces resulting from TSG’s trip to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT for Media Day and the World Cup draw.

Outside of the actual World Cup draw, the most interesting 30 minutes of TSG’s day in Bristol was a small group interview with ESPN’s Executive Vice President of Content, Mr. John Skipper. In a wide-ranging discussion, TSG took the opportunity to ask about the topics most important to our readers.

Vuvuzelas for all! Skipper practices for the World Cup.

The topic of greatest interest to the TSG community was ESPN’s “vision for soccer.” This was covered in the first piece of our “TSG in Bristol” series (Soccer, the World Cup & ESPN), but I’ll add here that ESPN attempts to secure the rights for most soccer properties and believes that soccer is “not a marginal sport” in the U.S.

On the World Cup Draw…
Skipper noted that ESPN didn’t even carry the World Cup draw in 2006 and despite what some may think, ESPN wasn’t crunching numbers to estimate ratings immediately after the 2010 draw. USA – England will be a great game for them and it will be broadcast on ABC.

On a Weekly Soccer Show…
ESPN is “looking at” some kind of show, but they “don’t have anything done.” Two different concepts are being considered; a weekly English Premier League show and “world soccer round-up.” One of the obstacles to a global show would be assembling the highlight rights to the different leagues through purchase and trade including EPL, La Liga and Serie A. (Aside: I was hoping Skipper saw my picture at the  Sportscenter anchor’s desk and would call with a job offer…alas, nothing yet.)

Skipper, like most everyone else, realizes the soccer has to get better for the game to thrive. Getting better players would lead to better stories, more people going to games and better ratings for ESPN. Asked about the impact of losing David Beckham and Cuauhtémoc Blanco for the start of the 2010 campaign, Skipper focused on the loss of Blanco as a “big problem” due to its impact on the Mexican audience.  In 2010, expect ESPN to feature less Fire games, continue to focus on the big market teams and showcase the new Philadelphia franchise.

Perhaps the funniest comment of the day came when a fellow member of the media asked how a strike would impact the ratings, deadpanned Skipper, “Ratings would be bad if they don’t play.”

On the European Leagues on ESPN…
The EPL has done very well this season, especially when the match includes at least one of the Big 4. La Liga ratings have been “less that he would have hoped for,” but Skipper admitted that they hadn’t done much promotion of the Spanish league after securing its rights. Serie A and Bundesliga are pulling in modest numbers on ESPN360.

On the Quantification of Soccer by ESPN…
Given the piece TSG wrote about the Soccer Power Index (SPI), TSG asked the exec if ESPN was focused on quantifying the sport as a way to build the American audience. Surprisingly, the answer was that quantification is not an intentional tactic employed to attract the American audience, though more of it would be interesting.

Relative to the SPI, Skipper mentioned that it happened “more serendipitously than strategically” after some conversations with stats guru Nate Silver. In fact, Skipper went on to say that, “Sometimes it probably feels like outside these walls everything we do is strategic and we’ve thought it through” to which TSG informed that was indeed how things are perceived. Nice to hear that is not always the case.

On Viewer Trends & ESPN360…
To ESPN, two current trends remain the key future trends. Viewers / fans want 1) sports to be shown live and 2) sports “whenever and where ever”, i.e. the idea of “best available screen” — computer, mobile, television. ESPN360 and mobile content remain a priority for ESPN and Skipper believes that “we can cover the universe with 360.” Content is great, but 360 is going to have to be carried on more ISPs first.

On the Vuvuzela (just because we requested him to pose for the picture)…
Skipper pointed out the Confederations Cup crowd was mostly South Africa, so he expects the horn blowing to be somewhat toned down with a more international audience attending games at this summer’s World Cup.


The TSG in Bristol series:

Part I – Soccer, ESPN & The World Cup

Part II – A World Cup for All Viewers

A World Cup For All Viewers

This is Part II in a series of pieces resulting from TSG’s trip to ESPN headquarters for Media Day and the World Cup draw.

How does ESPN plan to straddle the wide gap between knowledgeable soccer fans and casual sports viewers in their coverage of the World Cup?

ESPN’s answer…divide-and-conquer according to the ESPN marketing team. Viewers fall into two broad categories, “core soccer viewers” and “the big event viewers.”

Will ESPN succeed in being all things to all fans? (Source: ESPN)

“Core soccer viewers,” i.e. those who will watch a Slovakia-Paraguay match, will be the priority during games. Broadcasts will be “pure,” focusing on the play on the pitch. ESPN will use the clean feed from FIFA and keep the screen devoid of advertisements and potentially the Bottom Line ticker. As one of ESPN’s marketing guys told me, the World Cup games are not the time to “experiment.”

Likewise, in-game commentary 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 casual fans. In addition, ESPN believes it has hired the best commentators (not the best American commentators), by retaining the likes of Ruud Gullit, Frank LeBouef, Steve McManaman, Efon Ekoku, Shaka Hislop and Alexi Lalas among others.

For the “Big Event Viewers,” i.e. those who don’t watch soccer regularly, but tune-in for the pageantry and drama, ESPN will attempt to make the World Cup on par with the Olympics. The spectacle of the World Cup will be conveyed through the stories surrounding the game; a very American style of sports reporting.

Great musician, great story...just not during the matches.

ESPN believes that South Africa is a huge part of the World Cup story and will tell its stories through “Voices of South Africa” as well as a ten-part series following Sal Masekela as he attempts to understand the upbringing of his jazz legend father, Hugh. This is likely an attempt to bring non-soccer fans in the right demographic (male 18-45) into the fold in the hopes of getting them hooked for “the event.” ESPN will also explore each of the 32 teams in-depth and is attempting to tell the individual stories of the 50 or so players who scored a goal in the World Cup finals.

From what we’ve been told, the storytelling and education of burgeoning American soccer fans will not take place during the games. It will be relegated to the studio shows and screen sidebars. As one ESPN executive remarked, “we won’t be explaining the offsides rule” to viewers. For educational purposes they will be doing screen splits similar to the morning of the World Cup draw during the Mike & Mike show when ESPN2 ran capsules of all 32 teams on the left side of the screen.

With 12 hours a day coverage for a month ESPN has to position the World Cup in a way that will draw the biggest audience which in the US will sway more towards the “big event viewers.” From prior World Cups, however, Bristol has learned that not serving the viewer tuning in for the soccer is a mistake and will attempt not to make that one in South Africa.

No doubt about it, ESPN has a difficult job in-front of them bringing the World Cup to life for the broad American audience. Success lies in their ability to effectively blur the lines between spectacle, story and sport in a manner that appeals to a mass audience while not coming across as phony or cartoonish to the knowledgeable soccer fan. In the next seven months, we’ll find out if ESPN will be authentic to the vision it has for itself.

Part I – Soccer, ESPN & The World Cup

Part III – Spanning the World with the Worldwide Leader

Soccer, The World Cup & ESPN

This is Part I in a series of pieces resulting from TSG’s trip to ESPN headquarters for Media Day and the World Cup draw.

If one thing is clear following TSG’s visit to Bristol last Friday, it’s that ESPN is throwing a lot of resources at the World Cup. Whether ESPN is looking at the World Cup in the context of a greater soccer strategy is still up for debate.

ESPN will attempt to bring the World Cup to the world in all its glory.

Media Day started with a quartet of top ESPN executives walking through the “what” and “how” of the forthcoming South Africa ’10 coverage. Jed Drake, who oversees all remote production efforts across all ESPN-related networks, spoke of the importance of the event to ESPN.

This focus has led to Drake’s role being re-focused solely on the tournament as well as ESPN making the World Cup an “organizational priority;” the first time an event has ever received that distinction at the WWL. Oh yeah, there is also that ginormous countdown clock right in the middle of the ESPN campus.

Suffice it to say, the World Cup will be all over ESPN domestic and international networks as well as online and mobile properties. To me, the two most interesting things coming out of ESPN so far are 1) that each game will appear and be archived for 24 hours on and 2) the current ESPN World Cup iPhone application is loaded with the history of prior tournaments.

From a personnel and exposure perspective, ESPN seems like they are locked-in on wall-to-wall coverage of every game, the game behind the game and the stories around the game with Drake adding that that ESPN is operating at a “far greater level of ambition” than Germany ’06.

Next to the podium was ESPN’s John Skipper who is responsible for the “creation, programming and production of ESPN content across all media platforms.” In other words, he’s kind of a “big deal,” as in #30 on BusinessWeek’s 2008 Top 100 most powerful people in sports. Of note, the Tottenham Hotspur supporter came across as both a straight-forward and likable guy in the morning session and a smaller group interview TSG was a part of later in the day.

Following some World Cup coverage specific questions from fellow media, TSG had the opportunity to query Mr. Skipper and lobbed in the #1 question from TSG readers.

TSG: “What is ESPN’s vision for soccer?”

Skipper: “We don’t have a vision.”

Now that wasn’t the end of Skipper’s answer, but it was a surprising beginning. Mr. Skipper then said that ESPN has a “goal, not a vision” with the goal to present the sport in an “appropriate and authoritative way.” ESPN’s coverage would be credible (to the knowledgeable soccer fan), but “in the American vernacular” that includes presenting the game and the stories (of players, teams and South Africa).

From Skipper’s answer and others throughout the day, it was clear that ESPN regards their involvement in soccer as producer of event coverage for viewers of all varieties with no overall designs or strategy to play a major role in growing the sport in America. This isn’t necessarily surprising when viewed from the Worldwide Leader’s perspective, but none-the-less somewhat disappointing for those who love the sport and realize the immense potential for ESPN to accelerate soccer’s rise in America.

Regardless of any master plan for soccer, ESPN’s commitment to the World Cup should provide a big boost to the world’s #1 game in the US.

Tomorrow, Part II: A World Cup For All Viewers

Mr. Shin Guardian Goes to Bristol

Watch out, Johnny Boy Harkes: Here we come.

That’s right TSG; we’re taking our show on the road!

And we need your help.

Power to the People!

The Shin Guardian is attending Media Day for the World Cup, December 4th at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut.

The Shin Guardian 007 is on the move....

Making the journey westward will be my brother Mark as yours truly will be on a brief sabbatical in New Zealand as I mentioned the other day. (Actually I’m in the plane right now but magically posting this through the power of the world wide webosphere.)

For Mark’s little sojourn, we need your help. Wait, that’s incorrect.

We want to travel with your questions. The questions of our readers. The comments of our readers.

Sitting around Mark in the studio as the fateful draw for the USMNT–or some might call it the Bafana Bafana lottery….please let the US be a 2-seed with the Bafana, please the let the US be a 2-seed with the Bafana… whammy, no whammy….stop–will be none other than ESPN analysts Alexi Lalas, John Harkes and one Mr. Tommy Smyth.

We are TSG. We represent you, the fans of the USMNT, the fans of American soccer. We take that responsibility seriously.

So we will play gopher and scribe here.

Send us your comments and questions to take with us: either for a specific commentator, on ESPN coverage, or on World Cup 2010.

As we’ve come to expect from the community here, be heady and well-written in your commentary, but don’t make it personal. Also try to be curt, as we are going to want to pepper folks with as many questions as possible.

While TSG can’t promise anything in return; we promise we’ll try to get your questions and comments heard and commentary returned.

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.

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