SBJ/May 27 - June 2, 2002/Opinion

‘Olé’ for the World Cup

Movie producers love products that tie in with their films. Sometimes, it seems that that's the main reason a movie is made.

Now comes a product tie-in with a televised sports event. The event is the soccer World Cup, which kicks off its 31-day run on Friday. The product is the alarm clock.

You'll need an alarm clock to follow the cup telecasts "live" because of the game starting times in faraway Japan and Korea, where the quadrennial tournament will be staged. Most days, contests will begin about 2:30, 5 or 7:30 a.m., Eastern time, and the June 30 title game is scheduled for 6:30 a.m. No matter where you live in this broad land, you'll have to get up very early to watch, or stay up very late.

That'll be more than most of us are prepared to do, of course. Soccer in the United States thrives as a youth-participation sport, but, typically, that doesn't carry over into later fanhood. My theory is that Americans have a soccer gene that at age 13 transmutes into a football one. Someone should do some research on that.

It's too bad if you let the World Cup pass unnoticed, because it's a great event. It's the Olympics without the extraneous blather, the occasion for entire countries holding their collective breath while their national teams perform. Despite the passionate fan involvement in many places (and amazingly, given the normal rancor between nations), the on-site atmosphere usually is both sporting and festive. I covered the 1994 and 1998 editions and never saw people having a better time.

We Yanks who are so inclined will have ample opportunity to tune in. ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC will air 58 of the 64 Cup matches live and, with ESPN Classic, offer 34 taped games at kinder hours. Univision, the Spanish-language network, will do more than that, carrying all of the matches live on its over-the-air or cable outlets, and rebroadcasting just about all of them during the afternoon or evening, some more than once. Counting pregame, postgame and highlight shows, Univision will devote 365 hours to the event.

Scheduling aside, the viewer might do well to check into Univision's broadcasts. I admire ESPN's technical artistry as much as the next person, but I've been drawn to the Spanish stations in World Cups past. Their graphics are good and they're a refuge from the British accents with which U.S. networks always feel obliged to punctuate their soccer coverage.

More important, Univision's Hispanic announcers infuse the games with the kind of fervor the event generates among their primary audience. In 1994, Andres Cantor, Univision's lead World Cup mike man, had Anglos of all ages mimicking the cry of "Goooooal!!!" with which he proclaimed each score, regardless of national origin. He was so big that Letterman and Regis & Kathie Lee summoned him to do his thing on their shows.

Probably, your Spanish is like mine, which is to say it's muy mal. Don't worry, because soccer Spanish is easy to pick up. Pelota means ball, faulta means foul and fuera de lugar means offside. Tiro de esquina means corner kick and a tarjeta amarilla is a yellow card. Otherwise, goal means goal and the names of the teams and players sound about the same in either tongue.

Cantor has moved on and won't be doing World Cup television play-by-play this time around, but a Univision spokeswoman says all the network's current announcers scream "Goooooal!!!" pretty much the way he did. Give them a try on a replayed game and I'll bet you'll be hooked for the real (live) thing. Buying an alarm clock will be a small price to pay for a lot of pleasure.

Frederick C. Klein (fklein@mindspring.com) is a columnist for SportsBusiness Journal.

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ABC, ESPN, Opinion, Soccer

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