Back in July I clipped an article from the Wall Street Journal titled Fans Say ESPN's World Cup Coverage Deserves Penalty (it's not free). It struck me that the article could just as easily have been about ESPN's poker coverage. Following are some excerpts from it.
Behind the scenes, U.S. soccer executives have complained to ESPN about the overuse of graphics and cut-away shots, which have interrupted the flow of matches. They say ESPN, which runs ABC's sports division, doesn't have enough staffers with soccer experience directing the tournament's 64 games from the company's headquarters in Bristol, Conn.
The conflict over the telecasts raises a question about soccer in America: With tens of millions of people playing, coaching or connected to the sport, does it still need to be dumbed down for U.S. viewers?
ESPN and ABC are employing a conventional American broadcasting style, with lots of chatter and information peripheral to the actual game, such as telling viewers that Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon cut a rap CD and that Costa Rica is bordered by Nicaragua.
ESPN defends its approach. Jed Drake, executive producer of remote production for ESPN and ABC sports, says the networks are trying to expand soccer's audience beyond a "small but maniacal" core. "There are a huge number of people watching the World Cup that don't watch soccer at any other time," he says. "We've got to play to that audience."
Mr. O'Brien says there is room in soccer's traditionally Spartan broadcasts for more storytelling.
Most galling to aficionados has been extensive talk and visual interruptions during play, misuse of soccer terminology, and lack of insight into tactics and history. During a first-round match, ESPN nearly missed a goal by Mexico because a producer had cut to videotape of the U.S. team practicing.
... blogger Michael Davies wrote - on ESPN's Web site, no less - that while he liked Mr. O'Brien and his partner, former U.S. player Marcelo Balboa, they "continuously missed the biggest stories of the game."
Network executives have instructed announcers to avoid complex analysis, people involved in the production say. One industry executive says producers have told announcers in mid-game to explain soccer basics...
He says a British friend passed on a message from a viewer: "I like O'Brien's voice, but can he just shut the blank up when the English fans are singing? I just want to hear 'God Save the Queen.' "
As I've said before, ESPN's poker broadcasts are by people not interested in poker, for people not interested in poker. If their football broadcasts where that bad, they'd all have been fired long ago. As the largest male-focused network ESPN would be an ideal venue for televised poker, if only they were competent at it.