I preface the note below by saying: I would be terrible at both TV commentary and production. I’ve never been in the booth and I have no idea how hard it must be to produce a live sporting event. My (slightly antagonistic) comments below are meant only to help spurn further growth of soccer in these United States of America.
A note to all those involved in the broadest and production of televised soccer in the U.S.:
After watching a handful of MLS games last night and then tuning-in to Manchester United-Chelsea this morning, I couldn’t help but note the stark contrast between the style and substance seen in the respective league’s broadcasts.
Noting that the broadcasts and commentary for MLS matches have come a long way in the League’s (comparatively) short history - and that’s thanks in large part to the ‘Game First’ initiative MLS HQ instituted several years ago - all of us involved in putting MLS games on TV could pick out a few items from our friends across the pond.
To those that provide play-by-play and color commentary, please note the following after watching the video above:
1) The silence. Peter Drury, handling play-by-play, let’s the game breathe. Note the periods of time in which not a single word is said - seconds at a time without unnecessary chatter, stats, facts, or any other information. Goodness gracious, soccer is beautiful to watch. Let the game be the star and provide anecdotes and information at the appropriate times.
2) Limited descriptions. The game is on TV. We’re watching it. We should never hear you say anything like the following: “Williams receives the ball on his right foot and takes a touch forward, as Henderson makes an overlapping run on Williams’ left side and Jones cuts into the inside of the field, looking for a through ball.” In the first seconds of the video, Drury rattles off the last names of 13 Manchester United players in a row without a single additional word (Thirteen!). We don’t need additional words. We need help identifying players and, periodically, concise insight.
3) Reserved commentary. The color man in this clip is Craig Burley - a former player who earned 40+ caps for Scotland and played for the likes of Chelsea and Celtic during a 17-year professional career. In other words, he knows his stuff - as do many of the former players and coaches who are now in the broadcast booth providing commentary and insight for MLS games. One of the real epidemics in broadcast soccer are color commentators who interject whenever there’s a momentary opening. Note that Burley doesn’t say a single word for the first 90 seconds of the above video. Note, also, that he waits a full 17 seconds after Nani’s goal before he speaks. He allows Drury to make not only the initial goal call (“Nani.. Brilliant! Just Brilliant!”), but then cedes time for the follow-up, as well (“Head over heels!” as Nani does a backflip). When he does speak, he provides succinct information (noting the stunning nature of Nani’s goal, while also commenting on Chelsea’s poor defending). Most importantly, though, he doesn’t try to talk over Drury or speak too quickly. We’re lucky in MLS to have a host of former players and coaches available to provide insight and analysis of our game - they’d be best served to pick and choose their spots.
4) The goal call. How many times in MLS is a potential goal call compromised because one of the broadcasters is speaking about something completely unrelated to the play on the field? Answer: way too often. Whether it’s a read for an upcoming ticket package or the color commentator talking (at the wrong time) about how the forwards need to pressure the opponent’s back four more persistently, too frequently great goals are not complemented by great calls. In many cases, unfortunately, the play-by-play man doesn’t even have the opportunity because he or someone else are talking over the action on the field. Truth be told, Drury almost screwed this one up in the video above. He began providing information about Man United’s home record just as Nani received a long diagonal ball. Luckily, he was able to stop short as the midfielder surged forward, and then salvaged the call as Nani struck. Clearly, this note goes hand in hand with those above - let the game breathe, provide less commentary and information and nail those goal calls. Those cutting the highlights at MLSSoccer.com headquarters will thank you (as will those watching them).
And, finally, a note for producers:
5) Show the match. There is nothing more important than what is happening on the field. I understand that different camera angles can provide a unique perspective as to what’s happening on the field. I get why the “hero shot” is used. I understand that we’re trying to build recognition of players and capture the atmosphere in-stadium. That said, there is nothing more frustrating when watching a match than when play is happening and we can’t see it. A shot of the coach, shots of the fans, close-ups of a player off the ball, a replay from the near-miss moments before - none are more important than the live game. Show those aforementioned shots when there is a break in the action (goal kick, corner kick, substitution, injury, etc.). The video above doesn’t provide the best example, necessarily, but note that there are only two (very brief) cutaway moments during the run of play. The extreme close-ups are reserved for the time after the goal is scored. Finally, it’s okay to wait several minutes before showing a replay if the game has re-started before you were able to get it in. Wait for it. We’ll be glad you did.
MLS is extremely lucky to have a group of people - commentators, producers, club staffers who oversee broadcasts and others - who care deeply about the sport we all love. As I said from the beginning, the broadcasts of our games have come a long way in the last 16 years, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. I truly believe the televised MLS match is our best - and perhaps only - opportunity to attract the soccer fan who isn’t yet a fan of MLS (those that love EPL, La Liga, Bundesliga, World Cup, etc. but won’t be bothered to go watch their home team play up the street). As our broadcasts improve around the League, I think we’ll see more of these folks tuning-in and, eventually, making the decision to come out to a game. And, do you know what they’ll realize once they’re in their seat? It’s the same, beautiful, poetic, enthralling game they know and love. And it’s right in their backyard.
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