ESPN Blunders Badly with a Booth Full of Brits

By Paul Gardner

Message from ESPN: Americans still don't know anything about soccer, so they'll have to be taken by the hand and have it explained to them ... by, who else, the Brits.

There is no other way to read the utterly insensitive announcement from ESPN that the four main play-by-play announcers for its World Cup coverage will all be Brits.

Despite 12 years of MLS telecasts, both national and local, ESPN cannot find even one American whom they consider good enough. An obvious answer to that blindness is JP Dellacamera, who has been astonishingly ignored. A huge slap in the face for American talent. A tremendous blunder.

No one, certainly not I, will argue with the appointment of Martin Tyler. He may well be the most experienced and most well-known -- possibly the best -- soccer broadcaster in the English language. The other three -- Ian Darke, Derek Rae and Adrian Healey -- have no such distinction to offer. Nor is it that any of them is bad -- they are all in the good to excellent bracket.

The problem is simply that they are all Brits. And for the USA, which has been forging ahead by leaps and bounds over the past decade in its soccer knowledge and its soccer sophistication, that is not good enough. Worse, it is insulting.

It seems quite likely that consideration never occurred to the ESPN soccer brains, whoever they may be. One of them, I guess, must be Jed Drake, the executive producer for ESPN’s 2010 FIFA World Cup coverage, who tells us: “The group of commentators we have assembled represents some of the finest English-language voices for televised soccer anywhere in the world.”

If I take his statement literally, it appears that “voices” is the key word. Agreed -- the voices are good. So is Drake enthralled by the British accents? Should that be the main criterion? I wouldn’t have thought so.

I suppose Drake will tell us he means “voice” in a wider sense, that of a source of information. Only later does he mention soccer knowledge: “ ... their first-hand knowledge of the players who will compete in the FIFA World Cup will greatly inform fans and enhance how we present this global event in the United States.”

But that aspect of soccer -- the global aspect -- is obviously a mystery to the higher ESPN soccer regions. As a global sport, soccer is played with a large number of local variations in style and sensibilities. British commentators will, one hopes, be knowledgeable about British soccer. They will certainly, consciously or unconsciously, reflect British attitudes and prejudices. And of all the soccer parochialisms, the British is by far the most insular, almost impervious to outside influence.

Six years ago, Euro 2004 was offered in the USA on PPV, with all-Brit commentators who managed, at one point, to make a game between Latvia and the Czech Republic sound like an English Premier League Telecast by talking constantly about the small group of players on the field who played for clubs in the EPL.

Which is fine for a British audience. For a multinational and multilingual audience such as the USA presents, it is not fine. If there has to be one controlling soccer mindset for the World Cup telecasts, that mindset should be American. That is unlikely to come from the Brits, because these opinion-patterns are pretty deeply embedded.

But the Brits will be covering the USA. How will they approach that? The home team, so to speak, but not their home team. The obvious way for them to avoid the stigma of not being American, will be to go light on the Americans. Conversely, how will they handle England’s games? Probably by being too critical, in an attempt to prove their objectivity. That will not make for a balanced, intelligent approach.

Talking of which, why on earth would ESPN think it important - in the interests of either balance or intelligence -- to tell us that they have a “dedicated” reporter covering Australia? Let me check ... yes, Australia. Not Brazil, or Spain or Argentina? Not yet anyway, later for them, maybe.

Returning to the field -- or the “pitch” as the Brits will no doubt call it -- there is usually more than one way of interpreting soccer action. This is not a question of being right or wrong, more a matter of one’s soccer background. There is, for a start, the traditional divide between the Latin “skill-based” game, and the European “physical” approach. Never mind, for the moment, the simplification. There are important differences and subtleties. Will we get them from four Brits?

Even within Europe, there are differences. British referees are known to have a permissive approach to rough play. I recently listened to Ian Darke on an English Premier League game that featured some almost criminally pathetic refereeing -- yet Darke, habituated to the leniency of British refs, could not bring himself to utter an outright condemnation of either the violent play or the feeble officiating.

When all is said and done, the biggest objection to ESPN’s announcers is not so much that they are Brits, but that they are all Brits. There is just no variation there. The variety within the game will not be represented. American viewers, themselves a pretty diverse group, deserve better.

26 comments about "ESPN Blunders Badly with a Booth Full of Brits".
  1. Chaz Worthy, March 26, 2010 at 5:26 a.m.

    I watch the EPL and Champ L on UK TV for a living and I agree that an all Brit crew announcing the World Cup seems absurd. The degree of national homerism is extreme on UK coverage of Eng vs any European side.

    Also, I have recently watch replays of MLS game done by JP Dellacamera and YES, he brings a distinctively American “voice” to soccer that I like and really appreciate. His use of American tran-sports analogies is wonderful.

    The US team is a WC bubble team, domestically folks like our chances, yet most Brits (Pat Nevin especially) are downright contemptuous of our squad…As a NYer who sees the new Red Bull Arena as the final move before soccer finally eclipses hockey and basketball in the American sports consciousness, an all Brits TV crew is truly disconcerting...

    Didn’t anyone take note of the Canadian bias (and accents) during the Olympic hockey final? Can this be any less obtrusive or offensive? Makes me really want to find a way to S Africa to see it live…

  2. Ihor v Kutynsky, March 26, 2010 at 8:46 a.m.

    This is all part of the so-called "British invasion" of American soccer(payback for 1776?) which includes soccer camps,state ODP staffs,Directors of Coaching,EPL team"sponsorships(read-potential talent search for our young players)visiting "lecturers",particularly at NSCAA conventions,etc.Kind of ironic since the Brits did squat since 1966 and THAT was controversial!! But,hey,you got a cute accent you have to know something! How about us exchanging announcers?Have our football and basketball boys do EPL games and the Brits do March Madness?

  3. Sawtooth United fc, March 26, 2010 at 9:11 a.m.

    I'm a big supporter of the US team and US Soccer, however...(and it's not just the accent)foreign announcers in general are still far superior to ours, I'm glad they are the WC crew. American announcers have so much to learn about commentary during soccer matches! Their style does not reflect or respect the essence of the game..specifically, that it is a game for the players. Too much pontificating...second guessing the officials and the player's decisions. There is a fine understanding of the nuts and bolts of the game, but they are still lacking in the level of appreciation of the subtleties of the game shown by the brits and others.

  4. Guadalupe De Los Santos, March 26, 2010 at 9:17 a.m.

    As an American fan of soccer, this is another reason why I watch all Soccer (Futbol/football) coverage in America in every other language except English and ESPN.

    I tune in to Telemundo, Univision, GolTV, Galavision, Azteca America, etc... for Spanish coverage. RAI for Italian, others for German, etc....

    ESPN Soccer coverage can be a joke sometimes and I just cant relate. Plus, it just lacks the emotion/passion that I have come to enjoy over the years and that I get by watching the other networks. The crew that has been put together really is the complete opposite of what I enjoy to listen to so you wont be seeing me tune into the ESPN broadcast.

    I agree that Martin Taylor rocks and I do enjoy listening to him when I try and tune in but I would rather watch ESPN Deportes...

    Excited for the World Cup to get going....GO USA!!!

  5. Joe Kee, March 26, 2010 at 10 a.m.

    Paul, though you are usually just a bitter, grumpy old man I wholly agree with you. Martin Tylor is great and the new commercial he narrates is fantastic, but JP Dellacamera should feel completely disrepected. This WC should feature American coverage on an American channel of the US team - let the Brits call the rest of the games but JP and Harkes (don't really care about Harkes too much) should, at the very least, do the US games. Maybe this has been previously addressed but I wonder how much of the necessity for Brit coverage is a result of ESPN losing the Champions League rights so ESPN needs to use these announcers to justify any contracts they may have?? You know money rules above all else in situations like these.

  6. Alex Lozano, March 26, 2010 at 10:14 a.m.

    EXCELLENT article, Mr. Gardner & I TOTALLY agree. It's a complete "slap in the face" to American announcers, most notably, JP Dellacamera. I thought American soccer had come far enough, where we don't have to rely on the Brits for "soccer knowledge". I'm excited & looking forward to the World Cup but I'm, equally, dismayed by having to listen to a "pro-British" announcing team! Hopefully, we will beat them on June 12th...though, I suspect the Brit announcers will come up with "numerous excuses" for a loss to the USMNT!!

  7. beautiful game, March 26, 2010 at 10:19 a.m.

    Paul, how in the world can u suggest JP Dellacamera. Since i heard him years ago and until the present, his winded verbage and none pitch infommercials choke the life out of the game. Not only JP, but ESPN added John Harkes whose commentary adds to the JP cyclone and the yada-yada of irrelevance is none stop. They don't relate to the game. They should do baseball or football where the commentators babble on about everything but the game. I'll take the Brits over these two any day...they are concise and on the money with their commentary.

  8. Austin Gomez, March 26, 2010 at 10:43 a.m.

    Paulus et alii:

    It is NOT the MESSENGER (i.e., the Announcers), who is important but it
    is only the "product" (MESSSAGE: i.e., the Game), that is totally imperative!

    Spectators, for the most part, WATCH avidly every aspect of the GAME & not
    necessarily listen closely to the "verbage," pertaining to it!

    Words of the Commentators usually carry 'statistics,' which tend to overshadow the TRUTH (which is seen by the'eyes,' AND not by the 'ears')!

    Hence, don't make a "cat" out of a
    "kitten" (as we say in this famous Mexican proverb).........the Action
    and 'live' TV will carry the MESSAGE,
    far more than the non-needed verbage of whatever nationality of Commentators/
    Broadcasters present themselves on World Cup or national or local view!

    Hopefully, at one futuristic time, Soccer Matches will be ONLY seen AND not heard; thus, saving the expense and frivolity of wasteful expenditures!

  9. Marc Satterly, March 26, 2010 at 10:56 a.m.

    It doesn't matter whom is speaking into the microphone. The only sound you will hear is the constant swarm of bees sound coming from the annoying vuvuzelas. Outside of Seamus Malin and JP Dellacamera there aren't any Americans that should be allowed a microphone during a match. American announcers talk over the game as if you are listening to the director's commentary on a DVD Bonus Feature. If we don't like the dry, boring Brits broadcasting we have passionate voces en espanol and even Portuguese this time around. None of it will matter.

  10. Craig Mazzera, March 26, 2010 at 11:13 a.m.

    I was very glad to hear that ESPN would have no American announcers for their World Cup coverage. I have yet to hear an American announcer that understands the game well enough to add and not detract from the viewing experience. The American commentators during the last World Cup were horrendous. Soccer is a game that needs to breath. Its just as important for an announcer to know when to shut up as when to comment. American announcers brought up in the world of short-attention-span American sports don't get it.

  11. Cristian Deseanu, March 26, 2010 at 11:18 a.m.

    I agree! This is stupid! I can't wait to see how USA vs England match is gonna sound on ESPN! I hope I'm not gonna have to destroy my tv! :) And don't forget the "vuvuzelas"! Is going to drive us crazy! I just hope that "THE SHOW" is gonna be biger then all of this!

  12. John Toutkaldjian, March 26, 2010 at 11:50 a.m.

    I agree with Gardner's take on the All Brits "voices" on ESPN's roster. The only GOOD thing about it is we don't have to hear the dribble of Paul Delacamera. There is no one in the game behind a microphone as verbose as he. I always liked Eric Wynalda's commentatng and analysis. Too bad for him that he told it "like it is." The master of that, of course, is Paul Gardner. But I enjoy his insight and depth of thought on all soccer issues.

  13. Mike Gaire, March 26, 2010 at 11:52 a.m.

    What a totally pointless and unecessary rant!Why are we supposed to be so impressed with JP Dellacamera? Who the hell did he ever play for anyway? And as for that awful Northern Ireland Smith with that accent like broken glass I am just sooooo glad they didn't pick him! Who did he play for too? Anybody? I can see an argument for Harkes, Lalas and Wynalda but they all have a long way to go to get to Martin Tyler's standard, but thank God they did not ask Trevor Francis to join because his command of the English language is barely above grade 2 and it is just embarrassing to hear his continouse grammatical blunders, and strongly contrasts with the much more intelligent comments you get when you hear American players and ex players being interviewed like Friedel Keller,Harkes and,to a lesser extent the somewhat unpredictable Wynalda.

  14. Eric Piazzoni, March 26, 2010 at 12:43 p.m.

    Martin Tyler...fair enough...he's one of the best in the world and he did a good job during the Euros.

    Derek Rae and Adrian Healey, well, they are already in the US and are familiar with the game over here. I can live with that.

    That leaves Ian Darke. Ok, he's well regarded but is he necessary? JP would have been good. There are others who are good (though probably not great by any standard) commentators as well.

    ESPN failed with the Basebore guy the last two World Cups. Now they appear to be failing by moving too far the other direction.

    MLS has succeeded where NASL failed because it is developing American talent and restricts the number of foreign players. Wouldn't ESPN be helping themselves by adopting a similar approach?

  15. Tom Kondas, March 26, 2010 at 2:12 p.m.

    In 1978, as President of our state association,I organized a tournament involving local and 3 German teams,I had no illusions about our level compared to their's but in asking they were polite enough to say they thought in 10 yrs we could achieve some parity. In 2009 I watched on television as a european coach was asked the same question and then answer was that we were about 10 yrs away from reaching a comparable level. What happened in the meantime? Well, the USSF paired up with the Brits and allowed them to tell us how the game should be played, this from a country that hasn't been in a world cup final in 40 plus years. It reminds me of when I was trying to convince our state high school athletic association to accept soccef as a varsity sport and allow our trained referees to officiate. Their board was, and is, made up of former football
    (american) players and basket ball players. Their mind set came from that frame of reference, they really didn't want to deal with us but eentually had to give in and so they just turned it over to whomever came forward to claim they knew somthing about coaching or refereeing. In most cases a teacher who was teaching a foreign language became the coacheven though they had never played the game. This seems sto be the same approach that ESPN has taken in turning the world cup announcers over to persons who, with their nauseating acent, attempt to tell us about american players whom we have nurtured and brought up from children playing recreationsla soccer, through high school and college and in our own professional league. How could they possibly know more about them than we do. Personally, they can take their Tommy Smyth whose only talent is to second guess the referee although Tommy wears coke bottle lens and makes his call from a distance much farther than the referee's and apparently has never attended a rules interpretation clinic.
    Until we cut ties with the Briots and align ouselves with a winning country we will always be "10 years behind"

  16. John Singer, March 26, 2010 at 3:29 p.m.

    The comments on this board are always excellent. For pure viewing/listening pleasure there is simply no comparison between the British broadcasters and their American counterparts. The Brits are chuckle inducing clever and have great insight. Rob Stone is eager and grating, like an Olympic Gymnastics commentator. With the option of ESPN or Telemundo for an important match I will go to the Spanish language station even though I only understand "Tiro de esquina!" Worse, though, is the video production on American soccer broadcasts. Too often they will cut away to a replay and miss important live action, or select a close up of a player or coach for long duration while action is taking place. You will never see that internationally, where the production crew actually understands the game and knows instictively when to fit in a replay.

  17. Kent Pothast, March 26, 2010 at 3:36 p.m.

    I lived in the UK for a few years and can handle it but the kids I coached here have problems understanding a lot of the British accents (particularly Scottish) and just tune out. It is hard enough to get the kids to watch the TV matches without adding announcers that, to them, are not understandable.

  18. Tom Hudecek, March 26, 2010 at 4:38 p.m.

    Derek Rae is the best commentator in the world. No Americans are close. I would much rather listen to him than an American without the naturally smooth and detail he can provide. Leave JP and the American commentators for U.S. national team games, and MLS games.

    The English invasion is moving past it's impacting phase. People don't assume every person experienced as a fan/coach or former "Pro" from a weak little club from England is a great Soccer player and Soccer mind. We know other countries have a better view. Just compare Italy and the World Cups they have, the fact English seek Italian coaches, don't get me started on World Player's of the year and everything else England can't argue. But the FACT IS they have better English language commentators that were immersed in the European environment. They have accents to naturally fit modern Football from its creation in Europe with relevant, elegant, and eloquent comments such as those by Derek Rae.

  19. Robert Kiernan, March 26, 2010 at 7:24 p.m.

    Well I must say that after trying to watch matches here for well over 35 years now, I can say that while I'm not always wild over British commentators, at least they seem to be paying attention TO THE MATCH IN FRONT OF THEM... I simply HATE listening to J.P.Dellacmera and John Harkes because they oh so often seem to be arguing just how many angels can dance on the head of a pin...and totally ignore doing the play by play of the match in REAL TIME... the one guy that DOES know how to do this and has worked well with Balboa or Messing is Glenn Davis, he will set up the color commentator, but WILL interrupt him if something on the field is happening...this is what I want from a play by play announcer.But Davis always seems to be relegated to a secondary role and we instead get Dellacamera... who just won't shut up or tell me just where the Referee is from or who it is that has the ball at the moment. But then remember that most of these staff announcers are really more Baseball people and love their statistics...but can't call a live game doing real play by play to save their lives!

    The example I would give of just why I dislike most of ABC/ESPN's people is what happened four years ago when we were playing the Czech's... it was our opening match, and we were not playing all that well and in fact were down a goal and the ball was being crossed in towards the 6'8'' striker who had just scored for the Czech Republic...Kellor was coming off his line trying to get to the ball before Koller could score again...there was drama here...tension... and NEITHER of the talking heads employed to cover the match seemed interested in this...they were too busy talking about some arcane point to notice that WE MIGHT BE ABOUT TO GO DOWN BY TWO GOALS!!! I was screaming at the TV for them to shut the F**K UP... this is what we routinely get...if that had been in SPANISH, ever if you had limited understanding of the language, you would through cadence, understand what was up...but on ESPN, the sense of NOW is almost NEVER part of the is simply very dull...and that just kills me, because I LIVE for the game. ...but ESPN has stuck by Harks and Dellacamera with little good coming from it...As I've stated, I might not love having so many Brits, but most of the Americans that are trotted out have done a piss poor job in the past, so I doubt it could really be that much worse!

  20. Paul Bryant, March 26, 2010 at 7:45 p.m.

    I only wish John Champion were doing the play-by-play for ESPN. He's the best in the business!

  21. Catherine Ann burnett, March 27, 2010 at 2:37 a.m.

    I was so excited to hear that ESPN were hiring both Martin Tyler and Ian Darke for the World Cup coverage. My first instinct was "at last they are doing things right." The USA commentators in the 2006 World Cup were abysmal. And thank you FSC were the CL coverage. So enjoy hearing Andy Gray. Another of the best in the business. Please ESPN MORE OF THIS!!

  22. Catherine Ann burnett, March 27, 2010 at 2:44 a.m.

    This guy is anti-British!! Read his previous articles on David Beckham, English referees etc etc. And yes, American players do interview well. Most had 4 years of college. At 18 Wayne Rooney was already playing Premierleague football. Who cares about his grammar?? He does his TALKING ON THE PITCH!!

  23. Georges Edeline, March 27, 2010 at 12:49 p.m.

    TRY MR. RICHARD BROAD(703-346-6531)
    He is definitely the best, announcer, with experience at that, for soccer that I have seen or heard, ever.

    He knows the game, can recognize the players without checking the roster, is familiar with players' backgrounds, usually from youth soccer on...
    No dull moment with Mr. Broad!
    He loves what he does!
    The listener can feel the passion!

  24. Morris Reid, March 28, 2010 at 9:40 a.m.

    As an immigrant and long time football fan and player, this is the absolutley best news ever! We are talking about the World Cup here people, not some MLS game,give me my colorful commentary with British accents, so tnat our I can continue to hear young footballers here in the US say, (in a decidely British accent) "Oh it's a RED CARD!!!"

  25. Kenneth Elliott, March 28, 2010 at 4:30 p.m.

    I watch a lot of the EPL via the Fox Soccer Channel and have experienced the same reactions to most of the announcers and color commentators as I did back in the day when watching the NFL & NBA on a regular basis, namely that most announcers aren't nearly as insightful or gifted as they, or their employers, seem to think they are. What I find tremendously amazing is that the talking heads from the UK, whether they be English, Irish, or Scottish, don't know the game even remotely to the depth as they purport to know it. I find time and again that their comments on the play and flow of the game are off base, sometimes by just a little bit, but more often by quite a lot. I can't begin to fathom where the world got the idea that the English are the best judges of the game of soccer, or that just because the U.S. hasn't yet won a world cup that we don't understand it. I guarantee you that Bob Bradley has more insight to the nuances of the game, top to bottom, inside to out, east to west, than many of his British counterparts. Give him Hull City and erase the inevitable American bias in the locker room and he'll pull a Harry Redknapp and take that club up the Premiership ladder to repectability.

    As far as the World Cup goes, having an entirely British bent on commentary is ridiculous. Read "The World Cup" by Fernando Fiore, the announcer for Univision for the past 2 World Cups, and you'll get an understanding of what the tournament means to lovers of the game from non-European countries. Having a multi-national panel, including J.P.Dellacamera, would provide a much more interesting, and insightful presentation.

    I have a question for Chris Seymour, what do you do in which you get paid to watch soccer? I need a job like that!

  26. Brian Herbert, March 29, 2010 at 11:09 a.m.

    Wow, 25 comments and only one mention of GOLTV (Guadalupe, here's to you), and no mention of RAY HUDSON. GolTV is now my first choice to get a soccer fix, and RAY HUDSON is the most colorful, interesting commentator in the business.
    So, since he is a northern Brit, I can say I have no issue with foreign announcers, but we have to be aware that many Brits with hidden agendas milk our inferiority complex about soccer, going back to when Georgie Best came to L.A. late in his career to party, oh, and play a little football too. We did the same thing with Becks (ahh, Becks, hate to tell you put Georgie was the first British soccer cult hero to grace L.A.)!
    I'll have my mute button at the ready.

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