ESPN wants everyone to know it’s serious about soccer this time. Really. So it’s put up a big countdown clock, because what’s a better way to show you’re committed to first-class coverage than annoying every viewer you possibly can about the upcoming event? The suits in Bristol cannot help themselves though — anything less than overkill goes against every strand in the sports giant’s DNA. No one at ESPN seems to realize that one of the reasons they got those surprisingly good (and good is relative when we’re talking soccer in the U.S.) for the 2006 World Cup is because they let the tournament surprise.
The World Cup is best enjoyed by casual fans (people who can’t tell you much more than that Diego Maradona is the coach of Argentina, David Beckham isn’t playing and everyone’s high on the U.S. team because … well, because something) when it sort of appears out of nowhere.
It’s like discovering a great, quirky indie movie, the one you’ll later brag to all your friends about being in on first.
There will be no spontaneous discovery of this World Cup. Not with ESPN taking the same approach that David Stern tried with the WNBA — just run enough commercials and people can’t help but become smitten.
Now, if Saturday’s England-U.S. match turns out to be a boring slog or a British blowout (you don’t think that temper time bomb Wayne Rooney has been amused by how many American analysts are forecasting an upset?), the World Cup takes an immediate blowback. Is it better that ESPN is actually using real soccer analysts this time? Certainly. Was it essential that the network stop covering the games from its basement? No doubt. But, the worldwide leader in self-hype couldn’t stop there.
For once a ball gets rolling in Bristol, it must be covered with as many network logos and dubious promotions as possible. So ESPN doesn’t just dedicate itself to covering the World Cup right, it also assigns a team in the tournament to every employee in the company and tells them that’s who they are officially rooting for. An ESPN spokesman, though, assures employees are also allowed to root for a second team, their “personal team.” What an enlightened company of personal freedom!
Can you imagine ESPN assigning each of its employees an official NFL rooting interest? Of course not, because Bristol doesn’t treat American football like a joke. Soccer — even when it’s getting the near full Berman — is not so lucky.
– Chris Baldwin covers the sports media for Metro
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