Sunday, October 11, 2015

Chp 18) Pundits Not Interested

Soccer is basically ignored by mainstream sports pundits.  The 'big 3' dominate the sports news cycle on radio and Tv sports talk shows, especially American football-college and the NFL.  Twenty seasons in, MLS hasn't made inroads at all with sports talk pundits.  For MLS to be considered a fully conventional entertainment option with casual sports fans, these famous sports announcers would need to be talking about the league a lot more often than zero talk.

These national pundits are talking to the sports consumer audience about the sports issues of the day. They're not purposely ignoring soccer or MLS.  If you ask them how they come up with their topics, they'd say they are responding to what the audience wants to talk about.  Sports talk shows, just like sports events, comes down to ratings-Tv and radio. If the pundits felt a need to talk about soccer, they would.  The facts of the matter is that soccer is insignificant to all of them, except around World Cup time, and even then, the talk is minimal.

One specific national pundit has been vitriolic towards the sport of soccer.  He is frank in his opinion. He doesn't like the sport that much.  But, he's also someone who has changed his mind about other sports in the past.  He has a huge following of sports fans in his 'jungle' radio show.  I wrote 'Soccer and the Jim Rome Factor', in 2012.

Whether you are a fan of Jim Rome or not, his influence on the American sports world is undeniable.  He has a daily 3-hour national sports talk radio show and a half-hour TV show on ESPN, Rome is Burning (He is reportedly leaving ESPN and taking his show with him to CBS).  His style is different than other personalities in that he references his followers as 'clones' and what they have to say as 'takes.'  He antagonizes his listeners and encourages them to compete against each other, personality vs. personality or fan vs. fan. 

His radio show is heard on more than 200 stations, including Armed Forces Radio.  He dominates the airwaves of the U.S. and Canada and is streamed to all corners of the world via the internet.  Oh, by the way, Jim Rome hates Soccer.  And he is not bashful about giving his opinions on the matter.

He often expounds on the over-dramatic players who feign injury and he says nothing ever happens in the sport, with obvious insinuations to the low-scoring so many times associated with the game.  According to Rome's doctrine, Soccer is too much about pettiness and sissiness. 

His rants often don't make a lot of sense.  Obviously, his characterization of Soccer is badly mistaken and rooted in old jockish traditions where football, basketball, baseball and hockey reign supreme.  He doesn't get Soccer.  He is completely twisted in his evaluation and 'the beautiful game' doesn't mean anything to him, while he freely admits its popularity around the world. 

What makes Rome such a fascinating figure in American sports media is his opinions carry weight and his brand is bigger than any one media company, even ESPN.  This was proven when he was hired back on to do a TV show for them after being fired years earlier for being too much of an instigator on a previous show.  Only a few people are able to be bigger than sports media companies in the U.S.  Arguably, Rome is the biggest.

Most importantly, what makes Rome fascinating, is his ability to admit an oversight on his part.  Maybe its because he has become so popular and he simply calls it as he sees it, not worrying what others may think.  Through the years (and he has been doing it for 20+ years now), he has declared errors in his thought process and mistakes in judgment.  What's so interesting about this positive characteristic in Jim Rome is, he has gone back on his opinions on different sports, said he looks at them in a different way and then talks great about them.

He openly did this about face for NASCAR, MMA (UFC) and horse racing.  His support in the past and present for NASCAR and UFC has driven business for them.  In many instances, he brings guests onto his shows to talk specifically about high points of these sports, including promoting events and matches.  Single handedly, Jim Rome has helped NASCAR and MMA rise above the U.S. consumer sports fray and has been one of the main reasons these sports have been profitable above expectations. 

Besides his unabashed, undaunted support for the big 4, football, basket, base and hockey, Rome has helped non-mainstream sports get needed attention, brought them respectability in the U.S. sports world and pushed them closer to mainstream.

How can Soccer convince Rome to come over to its side?  How does Soccer turn him from a basher to a supporter?

His negative attitude definitely hurts Soccer because he gives so many other U.S. sports fans reasons to not give the sport a chance.  To ignore him would not be the responsible thing to do on the part of MLS.  He may be able to use his influence in the future to turn those fans to supporters of Soccer.
Rome is flexible enough for a transformation on Soccer.  His track record proves this.

It starts with relationships and its all about approach.  MLS must take the proper steps to get Jim Rome involved with its game.  MLS should be aggressive and not think its beneath them to recruit someone to their side who has so much power over U.S. sports fans.  For starters, invite him to Home Depot (as he resides in L.A.), wine him and dine him, and hope for a great match.

As ESPN's most popular radio talk show host for years up to his departure for FOX Sports in 2015, Collin Cowherd could have chosen at any juncture to spark up a conversation for how tremendous the support is in his hometown of Seattle for the Sounders of MLS.  He never did.  He avoided the conversation.  Even with multiple seasons worth of consecutive fifty thousand plus turnouts from fans to watch the Sounders live at their shared NFL Seahawks stadium, not a peep from him.  In 2012, I wrote about Cowherd's influence in, 'Why Isn't Collin Cowherd Talking Seattle Sounders?'.

What's the deal with Collin Cowherd?  He's one of the most influential sports talkers in the biz, he's from Seattle, he talks about Seattle sports all the time, but he never mentions what is happening with the Sounders.  They had more than 55,000 people attend over the weekend to see Seattle stamp out and deliver on the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-0.  It was quite a scene as the Sounders gave fans a Cascadia Cup win to remember at CenturyLink Field.

Could the Sounders be the first MLS team to average more attendance than its NFL counterpart?  It's doubtful, only a really disappointing season for the Seahawks could drive that many fans away.  The Seahawks play in a weak division and should stay relevant all year.  They have a solid fan base, too.

But, why is Cowherd only talking about going to an MLB game at Safeco Field while on vacation. He was out for a week or so and comes back to share stories of going to a Mariners game and his thoughts on what is wrong with baseball.  The sports talk radio conundrum continues against MLS.  No bigtime radio stations want to talk Soccer on any regular basis. 

The one thing about Cowherd is that he is one of the only guys in the business to consistently opine on trends in sports, including sports scheduling and what is relevant to sports fans.  He will mention how Soccer is coming along, but he doesn't seem to want to cross over and talk more than only what is on the surface.  The one area in which sports radio talk for Soccer is improving is for the Men's and Women's National Teams.  There is banter out there the day of or day before a big game.

But, MLS still sits on the backburner without consideration for national sports talk radio, while incredible minutia regarding the intricacies of a blitz formation, a slugging percentage and college freshmen draft picks are yapped about over and over.  For as much courage and audacity Cowherd can display with his quips and philosophies on the effects of sports, it is surprising that he is not talking more about his hometown Soccer team, the Sounders, the most supported MLS team.

Cowherd may be ignoring them because he doesn't feel his audience wants to hear about the success of the Sounders, but that attitude only prolongs the inevitable.  He will have to talk about them at some point because they are not going away anytime soon.

When NBC grabbed the MLS broadcasting contract, they had to choose announcers and pundits for any pre-game or post-game shows.  But, there wouldn't be any involvement of some of America's most popular broadcasters with the sport of soccer.  In 2011, I wrote 'Where does Bob Costas Fit on MLS, NBC Broadcasts?'.

He may not have any role.  He may not be asked to participate.  There is, though, a possibility that Bob Costas will have something to say for MLS broadcasts on NBC.

He'd probably look forward to the challenge.  Soccer is the most popular sport left for him in which he hasn't dominated in some capacity as a broadcaster.  Costas' relevance on the sports landscape in the U.S. is as big as it gets.  He has done as much as any broadcaster can boast of, including play by play announcing for the World Series and NBA Finals, as well as hosting both Summer and Winter Olympics and Sunday Night Football.

He has earned a lot of respect from colleagues and fans.  He has produced great interview shows over the years to include sports stars and pop culture figures.  Most recently, he was credited for the delicate handling of a phone interview with the Penn State sex predator, Jerry Sandusky.  Costas made notable headlines with Sandusky by asking direct questions, such as, "Are you sexually attracted to young boys?"

If NBC uses Costas for its MLS broadcasts, it could create more buzz among U.S. sports fans. Costas, single-handedly, could raise awareness and help garner bigger audiences for MLS broadcasts.  He has that much pull.  Will they turn to him to give the broadcasts more intensity?  That's what Costas does.  It's his bread n' butter.  He provides insight with narrative from a sports fan's perspective.

He has a knack for bringing background, characters and statistics together to create nostalgia and make sports fans feel they are at the right place at the right time.  It still is uncertain if NBC will use him.  The play by play announcer has been named.  It is Arlo White, an Englishman.  But, Costas could still set the scene, hosting, right?

How does Bob Costas feel about Soccer?  This needs to be answered.  Does he have enough knowledge and appreciation for Soccer to give MLS the theater he is so adept at staging?  Even if he is a novice on Soccer, he can learn enough in a short time to be able to come in and give these broadcasts the extra luster they need.  He is that good.  It would seem to be the perfect fit for him at this stage of his career.  MLS is the antithesis of all that is wrong with professional sports in America.  Costas complains about these kinds of things often.

MLS is proving Soccer can be fun to watch in America.  Fans are sticking by the game.  It is at a point in its history where the game is still a game and it has not been desecrated with gratuitous idolatry.  Right now, Soccer is entertaining for being itself.  The players are not that much overpaid and fans can see live games without losing half a paycheck.

Adding Costas to the broadcast lineup could make for wholesale changes to MLS.  It may not be too long after before it becomes bloated and overhyped as much as the other pro sports.  That's what Costas does for a sport.  It's his nature.  It's the blessing and the curse.  He helps sports pinnacle to the point of excess.

The lack of attention given to soccer from these popular sports pundits indicates that the sport lacks a certain-something to pique their interests.  The obvious answer is scoring.  It all leads back to scoring.

(Dan Patrick piece)

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