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ESPN Expecting To Draw In More Casual Soccer Fans During World Cup Coverage
Published June 12, 2014
BALANCING ACT: USA TODAY's Mike Foss noted as soccer's fan base has grown in the U.S., it has "demanded a higher level of commentary, production and care from networks." ESPN's Ian Darke and Taylor Twellman will call the U.S. matches, and the pairing is "generally well-received by audiences at a time when fans are more educated -- and critical -- of soccer coverage on TV." Twellman said, "We’re not dumbing the game down for people. We don’t need to apologize for being soccer fans, and we owe it to fans to call the game the right way." But Foss noted Darke "isn’t interested in trying to Europeanize the American television experience." If anything, when he "approaches a broadcast on ESPN, he’s looking for opportunities to let American influences come through." Darke: "My general view of broadcasting in America is to respect the culture and how it is here. I don’t think any of us should be sniffy, I don’t like that at all, the same way if an American was calling a match in England. You have to be culturally aware" (USA TODAY, 6/11).
TAKING IT ALL IN: In Newark, Michael Fensom conducted a Q&A with with ESPN World Cup studio analysts Bob Ley and Alexi Lalas, who discussed what the on-air personnel are "paying attention to and discussing" when the matches are going on. Lalas said, "We are in the studio. It’s an insulated environment with huge monitors all over the place. We’re watching from a tactical perspective who is having problems, individually or in their zone of the field. We need to come back at halftime and say, ‘These are where the problems are and these are possible solutions.’ But there is also an element of watching as a fan and enjoying it. We are hooting and hollering at the screen when someone does something incredible. All of that bleeds back to what we’re talking about." Ley added, "It’s the same discussion we have on air, the same we have at the hotel bars or over cards or at dinner -- just with time constraints and language restraints" (NJ.com, 6/10). Meanwhile, the AP's David Bauder writes it is possible Lalas and fellow analyst Michael Ballack "go at it a few times on ESPN, particularly with the U.S. and German teams in the same group." The net has "adjusted its schedule to encourage spirited debate among its analysts." ESPN in '10 "found that some of the best soccer discussions happened in the hotel bar after the cameras turned off." Producers this year will "try to capture some of that passion, with a regular 'World Cup Tonight' discussion on an informal set" (AP, 6/12).