Q&A with the SA Editors: April 24, 1999

Glenn Auve Arlington, Va. I am greatly disheartened by the news that MLS has renewed its contract with Winner Communications to be the sole producers of MLS telecasts for the next several years. Does this mean we will continue to be subjected to lousy producing and pathetic directing? Still more shots of the coaches sitting on the bench motionless while the ball is in play? Close-ups of players nowhere near active play while the crowd screams in the background at the exciting play that is taking place elsewhere on the field? My friends and I are constantly screaming at our TVs "Show us the play!" Can anything be done to correct the amateurishness of the TV product? If MLS truly wants to capture new fans, then the TV broadcasts must be of higher quality than what we're seeing now. I've written to MLS and ESPN and don't know what else I can do. I've even exchanged e-mail with an MLS local play-by-play announcer who agreed that the directing and producing is horrible. He said he's had meetings with the producers and directors where he tells them what needs to be improved, yet nothing changes. Can these people be forced to watch a game produced in Europe so that they'll hopefully learn when the appropriate times are for coach shots and crowd shots, and most importantly that people watch the game to see the players playing? This isn't baseball with six hours between pitches or American football with 10 minutes between plays! Maybe they could bring a few good European production crews over here to teach Winner how it's supposed to be done. I'm happy that the games are on TV at all, but at the same time I wish they'd be better produced. Ridge Mahoney: MLS has been peddling the same excuses for three years -- that it takes time to develop the announcers and producers and directors and production personnel to the point they are familiar with the dynamics of soccer and know how to best present those elements in a broadcast. True, but not ad infinitum. I, too, know several people involved with these telecasts, and have done a few myself. Those I know have experience working soccer telecasts prior to MLS, and they all tell the same tales: There are meetings and faxes and all manner of posturing, but MLS and Winner just keep blundering on doing things much the same, with only a gimmick or wrinkle -- the Mitre Powershot is now the Pepsi Powershot, yippee! -- and seldom is there real thought about the selection and timing of close-ups and hero shots, camera placement and usage, etc. They have re-done the graphics, though. Oooohhh! I've occasionally seen goals missed or other glitches in foreign telecasts, and there are legendary World Cup tales of, for example, Russian viewers hearing the Italian commentary and vice-versa, or of fans watching one match while hearing the commentary of another. But MLS can sink to incredible depths. Remember the jarring double-images -- one live, one replay, on the same screen at the same time -- the league tinkered with? Somebody with a baseball background at Winner thought it would work well in soccer, even though it had been tried and failed miserably on U.S. Soccer telecasts in the early 90s. Remember when D.C. United converted a penalty kick as viewers were shown a close-up of Bruce Arena? That was a national telecast! I've been told on the first D.C. regional telecast this season, for the first half the audio was so screwed up the PA announcer and canned music blared so loudly the announcers couldn't be heard. Only in America. Winner got the contract through ties to ESPN, for which it produces horse-racing programming, and league vice president Paul Phipps, who worked for the company that became Winner before joining the staff of the Dallas Burn for its inaugural season. Since day one, the national as well as the regional telecasts have been geared to sponsors and marketers, not soccer-savvy viewers. Your last sentence sums it up. Yet the league seems to be wavering as protest against the shootout grow more strident, and perhaps the same will be true with its regional TV broadcasts. Less talk, more common sense. Jeff Kurzner Miami I understand that U.S. fans can get Euro 2000 Tickets through the our national federation. In checking the U.S. Soccer website there was no mention of the ticketing process. Do you have any other information about acquiring tickets to the matches? Pete Bailey: Jeff, I think you were misinformed. Euro 2000. Tickets ARE NOT available through U.S. Soccer, as the U.S. is not a competing entrant like it was in the World Cup. Fans interested in applying for tickets to the Euro 2000 finals in Belgium and the Netherlands can actually do so online at the UEFA website. www.tickets.euro2000.org Fans have until May 7 to apply for tickets, which will be limited to two per person per match. There will be a lottery for those games where demand exceeds supply. The site explains the many rules that apply to ticketing -- they were modified in light of the controversy surrounding ticketing at France '98. T.J. San Bruno, Calif. As far as I can tell, there are no notable Mexican players in Europe. I find this odd. I would at least think a few players on the Mexican national team would be in Spain, given the cultural connection. So why is this the case? Is there more money in Mexico, or are they just not good enough to play overseas? Mike Woitalla: The latest Mexican player to flop in Europe was German Villa, who was picked up by Espanyol after the World Cup, but quickly moved back to Mexico and joined Club America. The only Mexican player to have great success in Europe was, of course, Hugo Sanchez, who scored more than 200 goals in the Spanish league and won five league titles and the UEFA Cup with Real Madrid. Villa may be a pretty good example why Mexican players don't succeed in Europe. When things were going poorly, he knew he could go back to Mexico and make a comparable salary -- maybe even more because he plays for Televisa-owned Club America. So why sit on the bench and be miserable, when you'll be welcomed back at home? Certainly top Mexican players should be able to handle European play -- note how well Mexico fared against European teams in the past two World Cups -- but we don't find that to be the case for a couple of reasons: 1. Very few Mexican players go abroad, because they can make such good money in Mexico, where an average player can make $300,000 a year and a star can hit seven figures. With few players trying to play in Europe, the odds are bad that many would succeed. 2. This also comes back to money: There are scores of Brazilians, Argentines and Uruguayans playing in Europe. When they go abroad, they know that if they fail they could never make as much money when they return to their homelands. (Only a couple of clubs in either Argentina or Brazil pay well.) A Uruguayan player can probably make up to 30 times in Europe that at home. Thus, the South Americans are less likely to give up easily. They may be more inspired, more motivated, because they can't fall back on a return home. In a recent Mexican magazine article, several Mexican players who went abroad explained why their stints were short, including Javier Aguirre, Guillermo Mendizabal, Manuel Negrete and Luis Flores. They tended to refer to homesickness and an inability to acclimate. Surely, such obstacles could have been overcome if it wasn't so easy for them to return home to the Mexican league, where besides high pay, clubs have good facilities, excellent stadiums, big enthusiastic crowds for major games, and the players enjoy major celebrity status. Most people will agree -- including Mexican national team coaches -- that the lack of Mexican players getting experience in foreign leagues has hurt the national team. But unless another player achieves success like Hugo Sanchez, which would inspire others, don't expect more Mexicans to try Europe. Chris Snow Ft. Myers, Fla. In his last several outings with the national team, Zach Thornton showed a decided preference for one-timing loose balls out of the box with his feet instead of picking them up with his hands -- even when he's not under any pressure whatsoever. Since I've never seen him play before I'd like to know if this is characteristic behavior and, if so, why nobody is commenting on this glaring deficiency in his goalkeeping approach? Ridge Mahoney: Can't say I've seen the situations your refer to. I'd only bring up the point that perhaps many of them were back passes, and Zach had no choice. If not, and if as you say he's not under pressure, yet he feels confident of delivering the ball to a teammate, why shouldn't he boot it back into play? The best time for a keeper to play the ball with his feet -- if he has to -- is when he's NOT under pressure. Right? Now, if he's just handing the ball back to the opposition, he'd be better off picking it up and either throwing or kicking it somewhere his teammates can get it. But I haven't seen evidence of the Fire coughing up scoring chances to opponents by the hasty, zealous ground kicks of Zach Thornton, so I must assume the league goalkeeper of the year is doing enough to keep the coach of the year happy. Keep a watch on Zach to see if his methods change. Bob Bradley is much too sharp a coach to let such a quirk persist if he feels it is impairing his team.
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