The TV analysts -- are they really necessary?

I’ve recently watched — on television — four English Premier League games. The games themselves can remain anonymous — they’re not really relevant to what I’m about to discuss.

Not the games, then — but the telecasts. And one particular aspect of the telecasts: the commentators. There are always two voices on these telecasts. There’s the guy who does the play-by-play commentary, and the other guy, the analyst (the color commentator).

The “play-by-play” tag tells you what that guy does — it’s basically describing the action on the field as it happens. This includes identifying, very quickly, the players involved in the action, giving us their names. A clearly identified role — and one that I rank as the most important among the various roles a commentator can take on.

The analyst cannot be defined so easily. And it is the analysts I’m concerned with here. We can safely assume that they know their soccer — all of them are former, sometimes current, top-level players. (Though, for my taste, far too many of them played as defenders, some even in that most defensive and non-soccer of all positions, goalkeeper). They are, without doubt, experts.

Full disclosure necessary: I had my spell as a color guy some years back, somehow squeezing in before the players took over the position. I worked for three major networks, but none of them ever laid down any rules about what I should be saying. There was no curriculum.

I suppose, somewhere a TV network, or a TV station maybe, might have a written agenda setting out what a TV analyst is supposed to do. That shouldn’t be too difficult — he’s supposed to explain the action, telling listeners what this player did right, why that player made a mistake, what he ought to have done; and not just the players — there’s the coach too, and the analyst should have plenty to say about their plans, their actions and their antics.

All in all, there’s plenty of lively stuff going on. The analyst should never be at a loss for words. Quite an understatement, that. Logorrhea (excessive yakking) seems to be an occupational ailment among analysts.

Yes, I do find that analysts talk far too much (especially when they have nothing to say). But that is not what gets on my nerves so relentlessly. Nor are my nerves too jangled by the pretty obvious failing that a good deal of what the analysts expound is nonsense. And post-facto nonsense, at that. Most of what the analyst analyses has already happened — likely, just a few seconds ago.

That is not the analyst’s fault, nor is he to blame for a situation in which he is usually required to voice his analysis while the game goes on. His analysis, in other words, gets a nice action background. But this is a totally false scenario: the screen is showing live action while our analyst is cleverly explaining what happened 30 or 40 seconds ago.

The TV viewer can make his choice: watch the live action and try to block out the analyst’s voice; or listen to the analyst while giving only scant attention to the action on the screen.

That’s all the scene-setting that’s needed. Any soccer TV viewer will understand the situation, and they will have their own way of dealing with it. For my part, the live-action always comes first. Anyway, as a TV viewer I can always tape the game and go back later and watch as many replays as I like.

But that takes time, which I begrudge, and it also contains a strong hint that the analyst’s contribution is something of a nuisance. After all, it eats into live-action viewing time with opinionating that may well not be that important.

Quite. It is really quite extraordinary that the TV analyst exists at all. Does it really make any sense to have this guy, this TV analyst, this undoubted expert, yakking merrily way during an entire game? Enlightening us? Confusing us? Entertaining us? Making the game more enjoyable for us?

His role is not a natural one. Let’s re-set the scene. You are watching a game — but not in your living room. You are at a live game, you are a season-ticket holder. And here, right next to you, very close, is a fellow season-ticket holder, sitting smugly there as he does for every home game, that damned know-it-all who never shuts up as he gives you his version of everything that happens in the field. You hate the guy, can’t stand him, he ruins every game for you.

You have choices, of course. You can wear ear plugs. You can try to get your season-ticket seat changed. You can bring a large-sized gag to every game. Or maybe a hammer. Or you can stay home.

Watching a game in the stadium should be, usually is, an enjoyable social experience. The exchange of a few words, some yelled opinions, the usual swear-word criticisms — that’s all fine and enjoyable. But to be on the receiving-end of a 90-minute monologue, a lecture really, is insufferable.

Yes, this is what I find so irritating about the TV analyst. Non-stop cleverness — when I tuned in to watch a game. That is what you get when you listen to TV analysts. Do they really make watching the game more enjoyable?
That, no doubt, depends mostly on the listener. Speaking only for myself, the answer is a resounding No. I prefer to develop my own view of a game. These analysts are simply intruding into my own decision-making. I’ll admit, I do tend to view the analysts as clever dicks, and I often take cover behind that marvelous TV antidote, the mute button.

Even if I can be convinced that, maybe, my reaction to TV analytic intrusions is overdone, I will still maintain that there is a colossal objection to them: Namely that a live telecast has no time for them during the 90-minute game.

They could be accommodated by limiting their appearances to those occasions when replays are aired — which would mean re-thinking their role — turning them into Replay Reviewers. Add to that their role during pre- and post-game and halftime panel sessions — surely, that ought to be enough for any analyst to cope with?

So that is where my thinking on the role of the TV analysts has taken me. They accomplish nothing. They are not really needed.

In fact they add a rather stiff, didactic tone, something that is quite out of place when you’re settled down in your own living room.

What you need then is a commentator who seems to be sitting alongside you, a chummy presence enjoying the occasion with you — knowledgeable but not overbearing, reasonable but not bland, good-humored but never flippant — which not too subtly introduces the only commentator I can think of who regularly manages, quite effortlessly, to do all of that — the U.K.’s, and Sky Sports', Martin Tyler. A fine example of the perfect play-by-play commentator, so good that he simply does not need an analyst.

37 comments about "The TV analysts -- are they really necessary?".
  1. Robbie Mustoe, February 15, 2023 at 8:33 a.m.

    "TV Analysts accomplish nothing.....".

    Wow. I guess it doesn't really matter what I think of this article. 

  2. Ben Myers replied, February 15, 2023 at 12:58 p.m.

    Robbie, You, the other Robbie and the others do just fine at halftime and postgame.  Not to worry. Nobody is hanging you out to dry.

  3. humble 1 replied, February 16, 2023 at 12:11 p.m.

    I learned a lot from you two Robbie's when I started watching the worlds game.  You guys were typically not in the booth, but before, half-time and after, though sometimes, they fliped the script.  Not easy this to work in the booth, coordinating with play-by-play.  Lot of respect for those that do it well.  So different from our sports with breaks.  I grew up listening to Johnny Most(Celtics radio), Bob Ueker (Brewers radio), Jack Buck (Cardinals radio ) and Harry Carry (Cubs), they all worked alone, and all played the sport they called at one or another, except maybe Most, but everyone played basketball so he probably did too. Soccer is not the same.  no innings, time outs, quarters, just half time.  Probably trickiest of all sports.  I like a good analyst.  Some I like more than others.  I think the group Apple is putting together is solid, and representative of where we are as a soccer nation.  Berhalter was our first NT coach who had a pro career.  We are young.  We can learn from other nations, like Frank S points out below, but we don't want to import, we want to do it in our own way.  The ladies, for me, I like, them, I like anyone who can add color, without becoming the game, add to it, efficiently.  Keep it going!

  4. Terry Lynch, February 15, 2023 at 10:41 a.m.

    Robbie, you and your buddies at half time and post game are outstanding.  I always get value.  I agree with PG to the extent that so many commentators, and less so analysts,  become cheerleaders yelling and getting so excited when one team or another gets close to goal.  JP Dellacamera is the epitome of this--can't stand hearing him do a game--and yet he gets something like the Commentator of the Year award.  Go figure.  Or they tell stories about what the guy does in his spare time off the field.  Most American commentators and some analysts must be paid by the word because they can't stand silence.  The Premier League guys are much better--maybe not perfect--so I guess I disagree with this PG at that.  All I need from the TV guys is the names of the guys as they play the ball.  I can't always ID them from the screen.  And some good halftime reflection and analysis.  But then I've been in the game for over 50 years so maybe I'm unique.  

  5. Kent James replied, February 16, 2023 at 5:14 p.m.

    I agree about JP.  He used to drive me up a wall (it often wasn't what he said, it was his tone; he seemed to be so condescending, as if what he was saying was the most momentous thing ever said).  I generally don't mind everyone else, and either JP or I have mellowed, so he doesn't seem quite so bad anymore.  I generally feel I can learn something from the commentators, and it is a hard job, so I usually refrain from being too critical...

  6. frank schoon replied, February 17, 2023 at 11:32 a.m.

    Kent,< " He used to drive me up a wall (it often wasn't what he said, it was his tone; he seemed to be so condescending,">    His 'Tone' ,seems to be condescending'". I never took JP  serious because he's part of the American commentating that doesn't know crap about the game. Furthermore, I don't care about how a person comes across when expressing his opinion., whether it is his 'TONE' or he's   condescending. What has that good to do with the price of beans? The object of discussion is whatever this person states is correct ,shows his knowledge of what he's talking about is correct...THAT'S THE BOTTOM LINE...I don't care whether he's wears a Bunnyman suit or his Tone is not to your liking as long as his opinion  is correct.

  7. Tom Mara, February 15, 2023 at 10:53 a.m.

    Although I don't understand Spanish, when I have a choice of the same game between channels  I typically watch the Spanish channel so that I don't have to listen to the English commentators.

  8. Ric Fonseca replied, February 15, 2023 at 2:15 p.m.

    T. Mara, don't worry, some or most of the Spanish language commentaros/analysts are just asboring as heck, and are too full of themselves, whether it is a Liga Meixco or an Argentine match, or Lordy-Lord, an MLS match on a Spanish language channel!

  9. Peter Bechtold, February 15, 2023 at 11:54 a.m.

    Very well put, PG. My biggest issue is with Taylor Twellman whom I find to be insufferable. He should be given his own post game program because he needs to hear his own voice. It's not that he lacks knowledge, on the contrary, he interrupts the play by play by making observations of marginal utility and causes me to use the mute button. I don't understand how Jon Chapman can put up with him.  JP D is different because he is at war with the English language. His saving grace is that he knows how to pronounce foreign names. I do agree about MT.

  10. frank schoon, February 15, 2023 at 12:24 p.m.

    Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Paul...You've finally moved away from the injuries , car pileups and ref calls, which is part of soccer but it gotten to be too much ande depressing which led me almost to begin to not look for your column.

    I remember back in the 70's at the Tennis match at Wimbledon , the American audience heard a british broadcaster announce the game, which was to the American ears for their was hardly anything being said.

    My opinion is that American announcers regardless of the sport are filled with a BS, trying to make conversation about nothing. It has been going on for so long that it is now part of our Sports Communication DNA. We have the modern world worst announcers, and I'm not talking about play by play, for any idiot can do that, but color, including the forced conversation which relates to nothing in the game.

    First of all, I can't get into listening to the women broadcasters giving color commentaries on men's soccer, Sorry!!! They have nothing to say, nothing insightful, at least from my perspective. The men are any better ,for they ,suck too....  In Holland we call what one hears from the US color commentators described as "kicking in open doors". In other words "any idiot could have seen that".... The men are any better ,for they ,suck too.... 

    The point i'm making is what we think is color commentary given by US commentators, is basicly "drivel". In Holland ,they one or two color commentator together, players who played for the Dutch NT, who know the game. For example , Van Basten, van Persie, Wesley Snider, etc...people of that stature who having played at the highest level and see parts of the game others dont  see...Their discussions give so much interest, insights and education tothe soccer fan. 

    We need to bring over a crew like that to show the American soccer fan, what is really needed in our color commentaries. This would be a first step to start changing the style of talking 'magpies'.

    Paul is right, we  need color commentators who were former attackers with brains, NO GOALIES!!!! NO DEFENDERS!!!! Coby Jones had nothing upstairs as a player , he was just Turbo. Using him as color commentator tells me about those who are responsible creating these broadcasting teams.

    Furthermore I'm tired of the PC applied. If a player made a terrible decision or pass or whatever, Say so. Not everyone  will run to a psychiatrist. In Holland,  psychiatry is not a fruitful occupation for the Dutch are well- grounded and they say exactly what's on their mind and that is seen during game commentaries....

  11. Beau Dure replied, February 15, 2023 at 9:18 p.m.

    I've worked with several women who've done commentary, and they do their homework. I infinitely prefer them to having Efan Ekoku demonstrate that he hasn't the faintest clue about the Laws of the Game.

  12. frank schoon replied, February 16, 2023 at 9:02 a.m.

    Beau, women's soccer is nowhere near the men's level.  A u16 boys team beat our women's NT. This is one the reason's why I think women shouldn't do men's games. The men's playing experience are way too different for women to comment on.

    Personally, I don't care about color commentators doing their homework, knowing the rules, etc. Color commentators in Holland report on what they see during the game that many other watchers don't see, bring up insightful points, or what should have happened and why it went wrong, whatever. They bring up deeper insights of the game. The fact that color commentators here have to prepare for the game, is ludicrous, but it does show the difference between a Dutch color commentator and an American one. A good anaylist reacts to what is happening at any moment and that is something you can't prepare for.

  13. John Daly, February 15, 2023 at 12:35 p.m.

    I don't often agree with Mr. Gardner, but he has a point on this. There are too many "color commentators" who are guilty of yakking on stating the blooming obvious!

    There was a time when the inane comments were explained away as teaching those listeners who were learning the game here in the US. Those days are long gone, so, color commentators, please desist!!

  14. Ben Myers, February 15, 2023 at 12:56 p.m.

    Paul, commentators for Premier League and Champions League are relatively good. 

    Let's talk MLS for a moment. Not only do the color commentators add little to the proceeding, but both the broadcasters and commentators natter on and on about MLS promos rather than following the game. 

    Now let's look back on the World Cup. English language play-by-play was absolutely dreadful with the cast of characters Fox assembled.  I would have been 100 times better off had I watched all the matches on a Spanish channel, hearing Cantor's G-O-O-O-A-L and descriptions that actually followed the play.

    As others have said, keep Taylor Twellman away from the mic.  He adds little that is helpful.

  15. Virginia Saam, February 15, 2023 at 1:15 p.m.

    Absolutely agree!  I usually mute. 

  16. Donald Martin, February 15, 2023 at 1:56 p.m.

    I couldn't agree more.  I listen to many match's on 1229 TUNDH so that I don't have to undetstand the color commentary.

  17. John Richardson, February 15, 2023 at 2:58 p.m.

    Well writtten Mr. Gardner.  Im voting for keeping  Taylor Twellman off the air !

  18. Christopher Miller, February 15, 2023 at 4:43 p.m.

    Soccer media is the best of the worst.  Football announcers like Romo, etc. are there to fill in the gaps between plays but generally attempt to elevate themselves over the play on the field.  For every Greg Olsen who is decent, you have a Drew Brees who is insufferable.  They can and sometimes do add insight because the game is uneccesarily complex but as a general rule love to hear themselves talk and create a show within a show.  The soccer commentators in the US generally help the average viewer get a handle on the game during high profile events such as the WC.  For weekly viewers, it is a hit or miss.  For every commentator that like to talk about "pockets of space" like it is some revelation, you have a few that let the action speak for itself and interject as necessary, not to be a self promoting douchebag.  The structure of TV kind of demands it, but I can easily ascertain the ebbs and flows of the game.  So do they add anything?  Not really but it is not their fault.  They are set up to fail.  As a closing thought on this rambling monologue, baseball and soccer announcers do add a bit more value because both games are very difficult to broadcast.  They are designed to be seen in person whereas American football and basketball are frankly better on TV.

  19. Mike Lynch, February 15, 2023 at 6:44 p.m.

    My vote for top commentator would be Toby Charles of Soccer Made in Germany games in the 70's, albeit a clipped 60 minute version of the match, with his many quips and sayings, "And look at THAT!"

  20. frank schoon replied, February 15, 2023 at 7:38 p.m.

    I forgot about Toby Charles and Alan Fountain of soccer made in Germany. These guys were all about soccer and not about personality. Too bad American broadcasters never tried to follow their style

  21. Greg Gould replied, February 16, 2023 at 10:42 a.m.

    "They're professionals, they're paid to do better than that!"

    "He hacks all around the ball and the chance is lost!"

    Good memories.

  22. Kent James replied, February 16, 2023 at 5:19 p.m.

    My favorite Toby Charles line was "Oh, he could have done more with that one!"  Of course, at the time I had just started playing so I figured any shot that was on goal was good, so I thought he was being hard on the players, but now the bar is higher...

  23. Beau Dure, February 15, 2023 at 9:20 p.m.

    I think there's a happy medium to be struck between the commentary duo (or trio) trying to fill every second with words and the lone announcer who clearly doesn't have a producer OR an analyst and is struggling to keep up with his or her various duties, leaving long stretches completely silent when the viewer could actually use some insight.

  24. Dave Carney, February 16, 2023 at 10:34 a.m.

    Agree.... I've been saying a version of this for years. I do not like the analyst position or more succinctly a two person booth.
    It comes down to point of view for me. All too often a two person broadcast team has conversations between themselves and makes the viewer a 3rd person outsider to the event. If there is only one announcer, he/she is then forced to have a discourse with the viewer making them an active participant in the experience.... and this is much more rewarding for me.

  25. Kent James, February 16, 2023 at 5:25 p.m.

    I think being a commentator is one of those jobs that sounds really easy and nice (get paid to watch good soccer games and be famous!) but is actually a lot harder than it looks.  And since every word they say is recorded and very public, they're attractive targets. I generally feel that I can learn somethng if the analysts are good, either background about the players/teams, last games they've played, etc, or the tactics, techniques or strategies of the teams.  But PG raises an excellent question; while analysts are very useful during replay, do they distract from my view during active play (when they are, by necessity, analyzing something that happened in the past)?  I honestly don't know.  I feel like I can listen to analysis about something that already happened while play continues, but it's certainly possible that I get distracted from the active usual, PG makes you think!

  26. Bob Ashpole, February 16, 2023 at 8:28 p.m.

    The bottom line is that I don't need anyone to explain the game. I have eyes and a lifetime of playing experience. If the comments become annoying I turn off the sound.

    With some commentators I turn off the sound before they start talking.

    To be fair, the "play by play" is what is a total waste. The "color" comments are difficult. The job is like a teacher with both first graders and post graduate students in the class. It is impossible to find a comment that is meaningful to first graders without being banal to grad students. So I think turning the sound off is a fairer solution than firing the commentators.

  27. James Madison, February 16, 2023 at 11:15 p.m.

    Ther difference between English color commentators and American analysts, which makes the former fun and the latter annoying, is that the English versions do add color and chit-chat, whereas the Americn versions try to be analytical.

  28. Bob Ashpole replied, February 17, 2023 at 5:28 p.m.

    I will listen to an Andres Cantor broadcast any time. Even though I don't speak Spanish, I understand every word he says because he speaks futbol and so do I. :) 

  29. Steven Schmidt, February 17, 2023 at 9:53 p.m.

    I'm old enough remember hearing games where Paul Gardner was a color commentator and he was horrible. Most of his comments were of the Captain Obvious sort or an incorrect  analysis of what had occurred.   To be fair back then I think  the networks wanted their commentators to dumb it down to bring in and attract  viewers in who had never played soccer.  Thank goodness we now have commentators who played the game at a high level so can address tactics and point out exceptional skill or vision when it's displayed.  Give me the Robbie's, Tim Howard, Ray Hudson, etc.  over the exceedingly boring and uninsightful Paul Gardner every day!! PG's article smacks of sour grapes and reflects his generally dour attitude.  I haven't read an article of value from Paul Gardner in ages...he's a complainer like Andy Rooney with none of the wit or charm. 

  30. Kenneth Elliott, February 18, 2023 at 1:36 p.m.

    I agree, Paul. They're totally unnecessary, providing pretty much nothing of value. Maybe, if they organized to ban VAR or used their collective voices to call for a reworking of the woeful referee clan, they could provide benefit. If we're talking EPL, that is. While we're at it, the play by play isn't helpful much either. Calling out names of every third or fourth passer just doesn't help. Mute tends to be my default. Maybe they could mic up the 4 officials and the 2 managers to provide an exciting level of entertainment.   

  31. Michael Grua, February 18, 2023 at 1:38 p.m.

    Particularly not the American color commentators. They might have been helpful when many Americans were just beginning to watch soccer on TV and didn't really know much about the game, but now they seem to always be telling us what the play or player should have done. This is not at all helpful many of us who watch soccer all the time. Julie Foudy for the WNT is much better and I'm glad I no longer have to hear Taylor Twellman...the mute button was my friend.

  32. Richard Eichmann, February 18, 2023 at 1:44 p.m.

    I find Alexi Lalas to be embarrassing.  His commentary isn't informative or useful, but rather simply anti-Latin.  He clearly has an ax to grind with all Latin American countries and that bias certainly comes out each time I hear him speak.  I guess that works well with Fox News.  He found his home with like minded people, I suppose.  Until Lalas is fired I will continue to watch soccer on any channel other than Fox Sports. 

  33. Michael Bernard, February 18, 2023 at 7:08 p.m.

    Watched a Belgium League game on ESPN + No announcers, just stadium announcer and crowd.
    It was a great change of pace.
    That would be the genius of modern broadcast technology allow us to not only switch to other languages, but switch between announcers and just stadium feed.

  34. Virginia Saam, February 19, 2023 at 10:05 a.m.

    The US/Canada women's game on HBOMax earlier this week was the worst!

  35. Bill Riviere, February 19, 2023 at 6:43 p.m.

    I haven't had the time to read thru all the comments, but thought the article was spot on, Paul. My biggest gripe--and it's huge--with the commentators is the second-guessing of every call a referee makes or doesn't make.  And for the most part, even though many of the commentators have played, most of them are terrible with the LOTG and if not that, certainly in their interpretation of the laws as it relates to the calls/no calls they are witnessing.

  36. Kent James replied, February 20, 2023 at 10:58 a.m.

    Having a high-level referee they can consult during the game has been a great improvemnt.

  37. Craig Cummings, February 27, 2023 at 4:24 p.m.

    RIC long  live G L G  LA TIMES  soccer  GUY. Kevin  great job next .MR B.  

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications