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What's There To Learn From ESPN Soccer Announcers

Ian Darke, with a bit more hair during his boxing days.
Ian Darke, with a bit more hair during his boxing days.

With NBC buying the broadcast rights to MLS and the USMNT, this means a new set of announcers will enter the homes of MLS fans. If NBC is smart, they'll learn from ESPN's soccer announcers, and leave the Fox Sports model in the dust. This means both learning from both ESPN's successes and it's failures. 

I started thinking about this subject after Dodger announcer Vin Scully announced he was returning next season for another year. Not only has Vin Scully been the Dodger's announcer since before the team moved to Los Angeles, he's also the voice of several World Series', he's the voice that called "The Catch"; he's the often imitated - never duplicated - voice of summer in America. 

American soccer doesn't have that voice. The closest we've come is Ian Darke on ESPN, who's calling EPL matches most of the time. He is also known for his calls in the 2010 World Cup, including "Go, go, USA" after Landon Donovan's goal that took the states out of the group stages. 

When I say that NBC needs to follow ESPN's example, I refer specifically to how the main soccer product (the EPL) is handled, and how that model gets used for MLS broadcasts. It's not a big deal that Fox Soccer buys the international feed of EPL matches, but the fact that they don't have their own announcers on site makes a huge difference. With their EPL coverage you get whatever announcers Sky Sports is using, who aren't speaking with an American audience in mind. With their CONCACAF Champions league converage, it's two people in a studio doing voice over on CONCACAF's feed. Often, those two people sound as disinterested as two people in a room watching a match on TV can be. 

The result of all this is Fox Soccer tends to value their in studio productions (pre-match, post-match, and halftime analysis) way more than they do the actual game. Fox soccer spent a good amount of money making their MLS matches look more like NFL coverage, and built a new studio for their EPL analysts.  And if you ask me, those in-studio analysts do no better job diving into the story of the match than anyone on the SBNation network. Usually it's worse. I have to believe this is because they aren't on site finding the story, taking in the atmosphere. 

Watching a MLS match on Fox Soccer is one of the few times you'll see an on-site announcer. Just watching the highlights from Real Salt Lake/Houston Dynamo, all I get from the announcing is player name (maybe) and whether they shot or not. There's no sense of buildup, no sense of story. I think this comes as a result of pre-game coverage being an instudio thing. 

Now NBC's NFL coverage is unwatchable for me. There's an hour pre-game where a bunch of random people talk about whatever, and then the in-game announcing has short of the minute memories. I do have some fears that their MLS coverage might take on the same shape. 

What announcers like Vin Scully, and I'm going to argue Ian Darke can do is give you a sense of place. A five minute intro by either of those two on site can do more for setting the scene than an hour in any studio can do. NBC, if you want to do the game of soccer justice, don't bother building a real fancy studio, or spending lots of money on graphics. Just send a knowledgeable reporter (say Arlo White) to the site, let them find the story, and let them tell it to us.