Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Perfect Coverage

What? It's 10 a.m. and there's no World Cup on? What in the world is TigerBlog going to do (other than actually work)?

TigerBlog has been fascinated by the tournament so far. To watch it is to see an event that is at once completely riveting and at the same time completely flawed.

Of course, some of the excitement is gone now that the U.S. team is out. TB, like everyone else, hoped the U.S. would beat Ghana and Uruguay and get to the semifinals, which would also mean at minimum a spot in the third-place game.

As an aside, TB was in the supermarket after the U.S. lost, and he saw a woman in a Ghana jersey. A Ghana jersey? TB asked her if she'd been wearing her U.S. jersey and had to trade it with someone else after the game, and she replied that she'd just gotten back from Ghana the day before.

Meanwhile, back at the World Cup, who knows what might have happened had England's second goal been allowed to stand. Or if Mexico could have kept Argentina off the board awhile longer.

Teams spend years preparing for the tournament and, other than the defending champ and host country, go through a grueling, gut-wrenching qualifying process. When they get to the main event, they're faced with three games to navigate get through to the knockout round.

And yet during those three games, top players are often disqualified because they've accumulated two yellow cards, which are given out like Halloween candy by refs who seem to be taken in by some of the worst acting anywhere. Or, even worse, teams have to play with 10 men against 11 because a ref gave a red card, again usually for nothing.

To casual fans, the two biggest issues in soccer are the lack of scoring and the endless flopping.

TB is okay with the scoring situation, except he'd like to see the goals that are scored actually count. As for the flopping, these players are, as an AP article said "rolling around on the ground as if mortally wounded one second and back at full speed the next." And refs are falling for it. And the results are having a huge impact on the legitimacy of the games.

FIFA needs to address these issues, and the governing body for soccer worldwide seems to be reluctant to do so. Hey, they don't even want the refs to explain what the calls were, let alone justify them.

And still, TB can't get enough of it. Why? Well, it's not because it's the premiere sporting event in the world. The other premiere sporting event is the Olympics, and TB can take it or leave it when it comes to those games.

So why is it? Why has TB gotten so into it?

It took a little while, but TB finally figured out why: It's because the television coverage has been nearly perfect. At the very least, TB is pretty sure that the television coverage of this World Cup has been better than that of any other sporting event he's ever seen.

And as such, it enhances it for the viewer - even a casual one like TB - rather than destroys it for the viewer.

The formula has been this:

in-game announcers who let the games breathe

+ those same announcers who are actually giving thoughtful commentary on the games rather than promoting the next event

+ studio announcers who aren't shilling for the coaches, players or other announcers

+ those same in-studio commentators who are making really great points without ever 1) cracking up because one of them said something that was on the fringes of being funny and 2) using the words "break down"

+ two-hour windows to see the games

+ no artificial media timeouts

+ no ridiculous overuses of technology

+ games that aren't starting at 9:30 p.m. to maximize viewers (maybe they would if the games were in the Western Hemisphere, but still it's been great to see them during the day)

= perfect TV coverage.

Simple, no?

And yet it's everything that usual American television sports are not. In fact, if you look at a World Cup telecast and contrast it with any major U.S. sports production, the differences will leap out at you immediately.

There are also lessons in there for Princeton athletics, especially in the area of event management.

American sports on TV all follow a formula, and in many ways, it's so contrary to what you would do if you used a little common sense. They try to be hip. They all talk all over each other. The event is often secondary behind the egos of the TV people. Or maybe it's further down the list than secondary, behind things like cross-promotion and sensory overload.

And then, when one network does so, the others copy.

The same is true in many ways with the way sporting events are put on. How many events do you go to where you are bombarded by loud music, by vulgarity from the stands, by start times engineered for TV, by all sorts of things that are so contrary to what your common sense would tell you do if you starting from scratch.

Some of it is unavoidable, as sporting events now - especially in pro sports and big-time college football and basketball - are there for revenue generation as much as anything else.

But every now and then, something comes along and screams at you that there's a better way to do things.

It's important to take a step back and listen to that message when you can. Whether you're thinking about televising the World Cup - or getting ready for a new athletic year at Princeton.


Anonymous said...

Re: Flopping

After seeing America's Woman's Soccer team bang heads full tilt, hit the ground and bounce back full-tilt boogie, there is no tolerance in this country for the theatrical "injuries" of the men. We've watched our daughters---and they can take a lick and get after it with no whining.
The studio announcers during the world cup have been outstanding--all of them, but Jurgen Klinsman really has his head around the games.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the next time a baseball game is tied after nine innings they will go to a homerun derby shootout to determine the winner, huh? No thanks. Sorry, but while a few weeks of this every four years is fine, I'd argue that soccer would get old in a hurry for most of us in this country if it were any more more frequent than that.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the previous poster who thinks settling World Cup elimination games with a penalty kick shoot-out makes a mockery of the sport. Recall the Italy-Brazil final of 1994. Italy packed all their men into the defensive half of the field right from the opening whistle. It was obvious that the Italians were playing for a shoot-out all along (which they got) and they were willing to solely play defense for 120 minutes to get there.

There's a much better solution. At the end of regulation, go to sudden death with 10 men per side. After fifteen more minutes, go to 9 men per side. You'll have a winner soon enough with the field opened up like that. Most importantly, the decisive goal will still be a genuine display of soccer skill, not the result of whether one team's goalkeeper guessed better than the other team's.