SBD/May 29, 2013/Media

Johnson Gets More Unkind Reviews After UEFA Final; Will He Ever Be Accepted?

Johnson (r) has been criticized for his high-volume, passionate broadcasting style
Fox’ Gus Johnson called play-by-play for the UEFA Champions League final on Saturday between Bundesliga clubs Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, and the broadcast “featured the full Johnson -- the trademark over-the-top zeal, some mangled pronunciation (it's Franck REE-be-ry and not RIB-ERY) and plenty of room for improvement,” according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com. Deitsch wrote, “I do not believe Gus Johnson will ruin soccer in America -- I'm playing the long game with Johnson as a soccer broadcaster -- but I recognize the fervor of his critics.” Deitsch added, “The one thing I hope Fox Sports executives learned from Johnson's debut season is he needs a consistent partner." Of the various analysts paired with Johnson, Warren Barton "was the best fit," as he "complements Johnson stylistically, and allows the game" to breathe (SI.com, 5/27). In Tampa, Tom Jones wrote, “What bothers me about Gus Johnson as a football and basketball announcer is the same thing that bothers me about him as Fox's featured soccer announcer.” His “speaker-busting volume is so over-the-top ridiculous that I honestly don't understand what he's yelling half the time.” Jones: “If he's screaming a name? Forget it. … Many people out there love Johnson's passion. They dig all the screaming. I'm just not one of those people” (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 5/27).

TALKING POINTS: Deitsch’s comments initiated a Twitter conversation yesterday among Deitsch, Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy, Bleacher Report's Dan Levy and SI.com's Andy Glockner. DeCourcy wrote, “Can't RIB-ery pronunciation be classified in same vein as so many who continue to mispronounce MALL-kin and Cali-PAIR-ee?” Deitsch replied, “For sure, but I think diehard world football fans are angered by mispronunciation more than others.” DeCourcy: “I watch plenty. I’m more weary of the insistence on English accents than I am of a slight Americanism on pronunciation.” Levy wrote, “I talk to A LOT of soccer fans. Who is insisting an English accent? That’s a false argument nowadays.” DeCourcy: “OK. Show me the major international tournament on a U.S. network that’s broadcast without one. Except the Gus events.” Levy: “Arlo White? He’s a very good announcer. It’s not about being American. JP does MLS games. Europa League games. He’s fine. Not great.” DeCourcy: “Arlo White doesn’t have an accent? Ooh. Fooled me there.” Levy: “So you’d rather have the 10th best announcer call a sport JUST because he’s American if the 9 better than him are British? Why?” DeCourcy: “I don’t mind the British soccer guys. I love Darke. I mind that every US guy who steps in and tries gets taken apart.” Levy: “Not every. Two. Because they were unprepared and didn't know the game for the level they were placed at the time. Gus=Fox hubris.” Glockner wrote, “I'd like to see FOX put a British cricket commentator on a Sunday NFL game and see what the audience thinks. ... If you have no idea how to call a game, that's a base problem. Lack of prep work compounds it.” DeCourcy: “Most of British PBP guys who work BPL or CL games don't tell us much about game, anyway. I wish they'd do more. ... If Gus merely brings his level of excitability to games, I think it's a fair trade.” Levy: “yes, he yells a lot. Half the time it's at a routine play. The other half makes Fox's highlight reels.” Levy added, “I'm not suggesting I'd prefer British announcers to American. I just want them to know the sport they cover. Not just reading facts.” DeCourcy: “I enjoy [Johnson’s] calls. Do I expect he’ll get better at soccer the more he does? Yes. But this has been an overreaction” (TWITTER.com, 5/28).

VOICE OF AMERICA: THE NEW REPUBLIC’s Marc Tracy wrote the “typical criticism of Johnson is that he capitalizes” on dramatic moments “at the expense of play-by-play.” That criticism could be rebutted “by arguing that the emotion he brings to those moments more than makes up for his technical shortcomings.” The net that “once gave us the glowing hockey puck was now asking perhaps the most self-righteous sports fans in the world -- soccer fanatics in America -- to accept someone they would surely hate. And to do so immediately.” American soccer fans “should have precisely the opposite reaction toward Johnson, who could help accomplish exactly what they have long claimed to want: that soccer be embraced by the entire country.” Given soccer's “rise in America, it's only natural that Fox would make one of the nation's rising sportscasters their face of the sport.” Johnson now has “about half a dozen games under his belt with Fox, and most reviews have been unkind.” But “if you detach yourself from your sentimental feelings about soccer -- love or hate -- and think about the sport objectively, you see that Johnson’s style could suit it very well.” It “may not appeal to those hardcore American soccer fans who would have the U.S. turn into a nation of ‘supporters’ of ‘football,’ but it actually makes sense for the sport, and it could help translate a game that has likely resisted mass popularity here” (NEWREPUBLIC.com, 5/24).

GLOOMY GUS? In N.Y., Sam Borden profiled Johnson and wrote there is “an element of loneliness to Johnson’s new job.” He works "in relative anonymity” in Europe, and “like many American journalists and broadcasters, Johnson quickly realized that working conditions in Europe are far different from those in the United States.” There is “little to no access to players and coaches before or after games in Europe, making it difficult for a newcomer like Johnson to increase his institutional knowledge of the teams he is covering.” Johnson said, “There are no excuses. It’s just different. And that’s something I’m figuring out.” Johnson said that Fox has been “supportive in this early stage ... and there will be more Champions League next season, and the F.A. Cup, too.” Borden noted Fox also “broadcasts the Gold Cup and the Women’s World Cup in 2015, and the 2018 World Cup is not so far off” (N.Y. TIMES, 5/25).
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