Ways To Improve MLS On ESPN

Ways To Improve MLS On ESPN

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On December 17, 2007
  • 10 Comments

This has been something I had been thinking up for a number of weeks here. Most of you may be like me and get utterly annoyed at how ESPN does MLS games. And in light of ESPN’s interest in broadcasting future EPL games, it got me thinking even more about what the Worldwide Leader needs to do to improve their broadcasts.

The interest is there really. ESPN is paying for the rights now days (as well as other networks carrying the games) and that is a good thing for the league but it seems like the MLS and ESPN need to get on the same page. The broadcasting on ESPN seems to be a joke for the most part and the coverage is pathetic in my eyes on ESPN’s part.

So here are a few ways to help that out:

  • Improve the broadcasters: In a way for me it starts here with the guys calling the games. Most of you know my dislike for the Dave O’Brien and Rob Stones of the world, but in a way both make the game unwatchable to me. More O’Brien than Stone though. At least Stone knows the game, O’Brien has no general knowledge of the game, he is just a greedy broadcaster who likes to hear his own voice as much as he can. Getting annoucers that know the game and don’t sound like they are going to die when they call a goal will go a long way. Plus, saying words like “YEEEESSSSSSS” for a goal call just eats at me. Nothing beats “Its in the net” if you ask me.
  • Two-Man Booth: I hate to say it but the three-man booth never has worked for me. Its nothing against the two color commentators but what it tells me is that ESPN still has yet to find a solid number one soccer play-by-play guy and that is why they stick two in there to make the broadcasts “better”. To me it must be eliminated because we end up listening to too much random BS about whatever those guys want to talk about that day/night. In the end it takes away from the game and looks bad on ESPN
  • Tommy Smyth: I love the guy, he is actually one of the best out there for soccer but I hate him in the MLS scene. Its nothing against him but I always feel that ESPN put him on there to try to please two different groups, the non-soccer fans who think that they need to hear a European talk to make it seem more soccer-ish, and the true soccer fans who may think the only way to experience a soccer game is by listening to a European. Honestly, it doesn’t work for the MLS in that sense. ESPN would be better served putting Smyth back on the scene with the European games that they do. Maybe once they get the EPL games on there he will be the lead color guy for that, and honestly he should be.
  • Rosters Shown Before the Game Starts: I hate seeing the rosters go up on the bottom of the screen while the game is going on. Its like they are all in a rush at the beginning of the game to tell you little facts and the game starts and then the broadcasters almost hit a panic button to tell you the rosters and formation. Take the 30 to 45 seconds and do it before the kickoff. Believe me it would come across so much better if they did.
  • Mic the Supporter’s Sections: Or at least put a microphone near them to make it sound loud on TV. Sometimes the games are too quiet and you know there are people there banging on drummers or something. Let us hear it if we can’t.
  • Improve the knowledge of soccer for the anchors and reporters: Its embarassing when I hear Chivas being called something other than how it is pronounced. Also the same goes with the players names and coaches.
  • More highlights on SportsCenter: They pay for the rights yet in their top-10 you see more EPL and European goals than MLS goals. That makes no sense to me really. Sure its the EPL but if I were paying for the MLS I would want their goals in my highlight reels not a league that I don’t carry. Plus, getting at least 20 seconds on SportsCenter that isn’t David Beckham will help grow the sport to non-traditional fans.
  • Putting games on ESPN Radio or create an MLS Radio channel for satellite: I am a big radio guy if you all haven’t taken notice by now. I would love nothing more than to have an MLS radio channel or see ESPN do a game of the week on their radio stations. To me soccer is a great game to listen to on the radio, its very natural for some reason to me and can be very entertaining to listen to if you get the right people involved.
  • More talk on ESPN Radio: This kinda goes with the last point and some others, the cross-promotion really of soccer on ESPN. I know most of the radio people at ESPN hate soccer but giving it a little time in a SportsCenter update or something is better than nothing in my eyes. It still helps grow the sport even in a little way. I’m also not calling for each radio show on there to spend two mintues talking soccer each day because I know that won’t happen but at least mentioning it in a positive manner would be enough to make some happy I think.
  • Promoting the games: I loved the ads this past season for the MLS games but I wanted to see more.
  • Put more games on ABC: I think this would be a wise move on the MLS and ESPN parts to put a game here and there on ABC again. Its annoying to see three games on ABC a year now (season opener, All-Star game, and MLS Cup). The more exposure on ABC the better I think.
  • Remove the sideline reporter: I never understood the concept of a sideline reporter for a soccer game. Never have and never will. They are only needed for injuries and maybe even discussion of subsitutions, but I’d honestly leave that up to the color commentator. I don’t need to hear pointless panter between Stone and Allen Hopkins. It provides me nothing more than a waste of time really and just shows how worthless some of the play-by-play people are if they have to kill mintues in a game with meaningless panter about different players.
  • Create a highlight show: Even if it airs at 3 in the morning, it needs to be done. That’s how Baseball Tonight and NFL Live started, they aired late nights on ESPN 2, do the same with a MLS show.
  • Improve halftime show: This goes with the improving knowledge part from earlier. Put more MLS highlights and have people talking MLS during half-time of the game on ESPN. On Thursday night, preview the weekend games, recap what’s been going on, etc.
  • Market to the Soccer Fan, not the non-soccer fan: This is the biggie in my opinion. Too many times the MLS tries to market to the non-soccer fan more than the casual fan and the actual soccer fan. That’s not the route both ESPN and the MLS need to take. Market to the actual fans of the game and that will get more fans over from the casual side and eventually get some of those non-fans into the mix.

So just a few things that I think could go a long way to improve the quality of the broadcasts on ESPN and other ESPN type outlets. This stuff can probably a whole hell of a lot more can be said about some other local broadcasters and FSC for the MLS. I will say this, I do enjoy some Red Bull and Revs games because of their broadcast groups. Teams like Colorado and LA, not so much.

What are some of your suggestions?

  • Brian

    Let me take a few of these point by point.<br />
    <br />
    Improve the broadcasters – This is like improve the referees and improve the players. How? What magic pill is there to &quot;improve&quot; them? And improvement is an incredibly relative term. I know I am in the minority of hardcore MLS fans, but I like O'Brien. And I like Stone. One man's &quot;improvement&quot; is another man's destruction.<br />
    <br />
    Roster before the game – Well, ESPN doesn't have a lot of time to sell commercials so any 30-45 seconds before the game showing lineups is 30-45 seconds of time they can't make as much money. It all comes down to money.<br />
    <br />
    Mic the supporter's sections – Good idea in theory. Totally backfires when some of the less mature members see it as a chance to say dirty words on TV instead of showing how fun the sections can be.<br />
    <br />
    As for all of your TV and radio news hopes, yeah, it would be nice, but it's apples and oranges from the game presentation. And you honestly say you're a radio guy and want them to cover MLS? They hardly cover hockey. They hardly cover NASCAR for God's sake. Face it – the state of radio is so far out of the hands of intelligent people, it's really past salvaging.<br />
    <br />
    Some things could be better in all areas, but I think this is another case of hypersensitive fans. Relax about how many people are in the booth. Don't have a cow if a name is mispronounced. Stop worrying about whether there were 10 or 15 seconds of highlights and just let time take care of things.

  • drew.epperley

    good post Brian, I know most things on this list were merely suggestions on ways I think they both could improve. They are mostly hopes and wants on my part that I know will never come about. <br />
    <br />
    Improving the broadcasters is really the main deal here though in my opinion. I know there isn't a 'magic pill' as you said to improve them but what I was trying to get across here is that ESPN needs people who KNOW the game and don't just want to be on the telly for a couple more hours a week because they think they are good at it. Its getting generally knowledgeable people about the sport that will really drastically improve the quality of the broadcasts. Believe me, I may be young but I have been around the sports media business to know what a good broadcast sounds like for a soccer game.<br />
    <br />
    I know they will never do any radio for it and that's their deal. It's all a money thing anyways.

  • Yo Murphy

    The first way to improve is to ban Dave O'Brien from broadcasting soccer ever ever again. Let's see.. the word useless comes to mind. <br />
    <br />
    I also love Tommy Smyth, the thing is he tries too hard sometimes and that's when he gets campy. He's at his best when he's really into the game, which is why he shines for the champions league.<br />
    <br />
    You forgot to mention barring those horrendous split-screens from any point in match play. The rule above all others should be: always have game play on full-screen. I can tolerate 'bugs' (like having a sponsor logo next to the score) but more than once they've missed a goal or build-up while they were showing some lame cutaway of a coach or stupid interview.<br />
    <br />
    Finally, rule 1A to rule 1 above is DON'T SCROLL ALL THE SCORES OF OTHER GAMES ACROSS THE SCREEN!!! ESPN seems to have come to their senses about this, but some of us are Tivo'ing games because we can't watch more than one at once. The game is ruined if you know the score before-hand. <br />
    <br />
    ESPN: Lose the cheese and promote the game.

  • Martek

    Very nice post. I think the best on-air tandem ESPN had this year was Glenn Davis with Idiot Wynalda. Davis is a great and knowledgable voice and play-by-play is what he is best at. He also knows how to keep guys like Wynalda in check and keep th commentary on the action.

  • Kubah

    I am in complete agreement about a hi-light show. When I see NASCAR and even fishing shows on ESPN I flip out. Show it ESPN 2. Show it at weird hours. Just show an MLS Tonight-type show.<br />
    <br />
    By the way, if you look at the ESPN Soccernet website it pales in comparison to SI or FOX Sports in MLS exposure. The MLS is buried on ESPN while the other two sites at least make the MLS link easy to find.

  • Let me take a few of these point by point.

    Improve the broadcasters – This is like improve the referees and improve the players. How? What magic pill is there to “improve” them? And improvement is an incredibly relative term. I know I am in the minority of hardcore MLS fans, but I like O’Brien. And I like Stone. One man’s “improvement” is another man’s destruction.

    Roster before the game – Well, ESPN doesn’t have a lot of time to sell commercials so any 30-45 seconds before the game showing lineups is 30-45 seconds of time they can’t make as much money. It all comes down to money.

    Mic the supporter’s sections – Good idea in theory. Totally backfires when some of the less mature members see it as a chance to say dirty words on TV instead of showing how fun the sections can be.

    As for all of your TV and radio news hopes, yeah, it would be nice, but it’s apples and oranges from the game presentation. And you honestly say you’re a radio guy and want them to cover MLS? They hardly cover hockey. They hardly cover NASCAR for God’s sake. Face it – the state of radio is so far out of the hands of intelligent people, it’s really past salvaging.

    Some things could be better in all areas, but I think this is another case of hypersensitive fans. Relax about how many people are in the booth. Don’t have a cow if a name is mispronounced. Stop worrying about whether there were 10 or 15 seconds of highlights and just let time take care of things.

  • drew.epperley

    good post Brian, I know most things on this list were merely suggestions on ways I think they both could improve. They are mostly hopes and wants on my part that I know will never come about.

    Improving the broadcasters is really the main deal here though in my opinion. I know there isn’t a ‘magic pill’ as you said to improve them but what I was trying to get across here is that ESPN needs people who KNOW the game and don’t just want to be on the telly for a couple more hours a week because they think they are good at it. Its getting generally knowledgeable people about the sport that will really drastically improve the quality of the broadcasts. Believe me, I may be young but I have been around the sports media business to know what a good broadcast sounds like for a soccer game.

    I know they will never do any radio for it and that’s their deal. It’s all a money thing anyways.

  • Yo Murphy

    The first way to improve is to ban Dave O’Brien from broadcasting soccer ever ever again. Let’s see.. the word useless comes to mind.

    I also love Tommy Smyth, the thing is he tries too hard sometimes and that’s when he gets campy. He’s at his best when he’s really into the game, which is why he shines for the champions league.

    You forgot to mention barring those horrendous split-screens from any point in match play. The rule above all others should be: always have game play on full-screen. I can tolerate ‘bugs’ (like having a sponsor logo next to the score) but more than once they’ve missed a goal or build-up while they were showing some lame cutaway of a coach or stupid interview.

    Finally, rule 1A to rule 1 above is DON’T SCROLL ALL THE SCORES OF OTHER GAMES ACROSS THE SCREEN!!! ESPN seems to have come to their senses about this, but some of us are Tivo’ing games because we can’t watch more than one at once. The game is ruined if you know the score before-hand.

    ESPN: Lose the cheese and promote the game.

  • Martek

    Very nice post. I think the best on-air tandem ESPN had this year was Glenn Davis with Idiot Wynalda. Davis is a great and knowledgable voice and play-by-play is what he is best at. He also knows how to keep guys like Wynalda in check and keep th commentary on the action.

  • Kubah

    I am in complete agreement about a hi-light show. When I see NASCAR and even fishing shows on ESPN I flip out. Show it ESPN 2. Show it at weird hours. Just show an MLS Tonight-type show.

    By the way, if you look at the ESPN Soccernet website it pales in comparison to SI or FOX Sports in MLS exposure. The MLS is buried on ESPN while the other two sites at least make the MLS link easy to find.