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August 28, 2015

A World Cup Guide From a TV Fan's Point of View

by Scott Harris, posted Jun 17th 2010 1:00PM
Soccer: it seems like the simplest sport in the world. After all, it's basically just 22 guys kicking a ball around a giant field until one of them knocks it through the goal except, oh yeah, you can't use your hands. Simple. So why is the World Cup so confusing to watch on television?

For decades, media pundits and sports snobs have been claiming that Americans don't like soccer, but the truth of the matter is that we like the sport just fine -- it's watching it on television that turns us off.

That's because viewing a match is so fundamentally different from the way that we watch all of our other sports that the networks can turn a basic header into a total head-scratcher by the time they're done with it.

Add in the peculiarities of the World Cup as an event and you've got a recipe that, despite all the time, money and effort ESPN and ABC have spent on their broadcasts, still threatens to turn off casual viewers. In light of that fact, then, we've put together a little guide to the beautiful game that focuses not the rules of soccer but on something far more important: how to watch it on TV.

Why Aren't There Any Breaks? Perhaps the most obvious difference between international soccer and American sports is the simple fact that there are no commercial breaks -- or, in fact, any breaks in the action at all. That's because soccer uses running time; if there is a stoppage of play due to injury or whatever, they keep the clock going and just add time on at the end of the half. This means non-stop action, but also means you might miss something if you need to get a snack or use the bathroom, unlike your typical American event, which exists solely to pummel viewers with ads. But it could be worse; in England, fans missed their country's opening goal against USA because their network decided to cut to commercial instead. Thank you, ESPN, for respecting the game even more than the sport's originators.

Where Are the Graphics? Anyone used to, say, football or baseball games on Fox will be boggled by the complete lack of telestrators, pitch zones and animated robots. The main reason ESPN and ABC aren't going all high tech with their coverage? They share a worldwide television feed provided by FIFA, meaning they don't always know in advance what replays are going to be shown. It does keep the announcers on their toes as they react to what pops up, but it doesn't explain some of ESPN's other choices, such as their lack of basics including simple graphics explaining which team is wearing which color (something that has been quickly fixed since complaints during early broadcasts).

vuvuzelaWhat Is That Horrible Buzzing? Anyone tuning in to their first World Cup game will immediately notice a terrible swarming, buzzing noise, droning incessantly throughout every match. Rest assured, this is not a usual element of international soccer. Actually, it's a local custom/torture perpetrated by the host nation of South Africa; for some reason, fans down there like to constantly blow on cheap plastic party horns they call vuvuzelas. It's incredibly annoying at first, but once you've watched a few matches, you probably won't even notice it anymore. Except in endless nightmare, of course.

What's With the Accents? In the true spirit of international competition, ESPN has brought on board a number of commentators from outside America, meaning every broadcast is a smorgasbord of accents, from Scottish to German to Dutch. The reason isn't diplomatic largesse, however, it's simple acknowledgment of America's soccer gap: just as our nation hasn't yet gained a reputation for producing world-class players, so too have we failed to produce world-class soccer commentators. Hopefully soon we'll be able to turn to our own home-grown experts, but until then, we'll just have to enjoy the sweet music of international dialogue coming from our TV sets.

When Is It On? All of the above, of course, assumes you actually locate the game on your TV, which is only slightly trickier than you might expect. That's because ESPN, like many networks these days, has taken to listing the matches according to when the pre-game talking starts rather than when the ball is actually put in play. Don't be fooled by ads claiming matches are on at 9:30 or 1:30 or 2 in the afternoon; every game in the first round begins at the same set times of 7:30AM ET, 10AM ET and 2:30PM ET. Set your DVR -- and your life schedule -- accordingly. [Check out our World Cup schedule]

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Football or soccer as the US seems to exclusively refer to it, isn't a game of 22 men kicking a ball around. It's 90 minutes of overpaid, preening sissies falling over in the most spectacular fashion they can think of and faking injuries left, right and centre (excuse the pun). It's pure coincidence that there is a ball on the pitch. I'd take a good rugby match any day, heck I'd even rather watch American Football - at least these are sports played by real men.

June 17 2010 at 7:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Darryl's comment
Scott R

It's called soccer in Canada too, fyi. I believe in Australia as well?

June 18 2010 at 1:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Actually it's also known as "soccer" in the host nation of South Africa. The finals are being played at a stadium called SOCCER City. The South AFrican local league is called the "Premier SOCCER League"

June 18 2010 at 5:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brent McKee

One thing that US TV can learn from British soccer coverage in particular is the simple fact that announcers don't ALWAYS have to be talking. A British announcer, particularly one working alone will name the player with the ball and that there's a pass. They'll talk about a foul or about how a referee blew a call. What they won't do is inundate you with useless trivia as the game moves past the point where that trivia is relevant. A British announcer knows that he's on TV not radio and won't try to do a radio play by play on a TV broadcast.

June 17 2010 at 5:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"Soccer: it seems like the simplest sport in the world. After all, it's basically just 22 guys kicking a ball around a giant field until one of them knocks it through the goal except, oh yeah, you can't use your hands."

Uh, that's why it's called FOOTball everywhere else & we call your game "Armoured Hand Egg"


June 17 2010 at 3:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to DarthPaul's comment

Just for the record, I've never seen an egg shaped like an American football. I get why you say it, I just find it doesn't hit the mark for me.

We could call Injuryball or something like that.

June 17 2010 at 4:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Soccer needs to move to a normal timed clock with some short breaks to make it more tv-appropriate.

Not saying it should follow the NFL on tv model or the NBA model, each with too many breaks.

But some middle ground to cater to the TV crowd is not too much to ask.

June 17 2010 at 3:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to beanspants1's comment

Personally, I prefer it with no breaks. I rather watch the sport completely, without it being game-ad-game-ad-game-ad ad nauseam.

But the England incident was an accident, not aided by a bad timing.

June 17 2010 at 1:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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