Near the end of Wednesday's World Cup victory by the U.S. team, ESPN analyst Seamus Malin delivered a short, in-your-face retort to soccer naysayers in the press. He may have been referring only to the underestimation of the American team, but perhaps he was talking about the matter of soccer's hold on the U.S. audience.
Well, wait a minute there, lad. (Which reminds me: If you're going to have a guy named Seamus on the air, shouldn't he at least speak in a brogue?)
American interest in the World Cup could have little to do with what happens to the sport here in the future. Television ratings for the opener Saturday were respectable, but nothing more. Should the U.S. team continue to surprise in the tournament, those ratings may become a lot more than respectable, but there's a parallel to consider.
Remember the Miracle on Ice in 1980? The American audience was riveted by the gold-medal performance of the U.S. hockey team in Lake Placid, N.Y., but here we are, 14 years later, and the NHL doesn't even have its Stanley Cup finals on network TV.
On Wednesday night, the sets in The Sun sports department were tuned to the U.S.-Colombia game ("Beavis and Butt-head" wasn't on yet), and, in the lulls between the never-ending work by dedicated professionals devoted to the highest standards of journalism, there was much cheering. In its World Cup form, soccer can be entertaining even for a non-fan -- but it sure helps to have a rooting interest.
The American World Cup opener on Saturday drew a 5.0 rating and 17 share nationally. That's better than most weekend sports staples this time of year, such as golf, even last weekend's U.S. Open, which performs better than usual tour events. The Open drew a 4.5/15 on Saturday.
Wednesday's U.S.-Colombia telecast on ESPN had a 4.3 cable rating, about 2.7 million homes. (The Saturday ABC rating translates to about 4.7 million.)
In Baltimore, Saturday's World Cup game on Channel 13 had a 4.6/15. During noon to 12:30 p.m., the second half-hour of the U.S.-Switzerland telecast, Channel 11's newscast had higher marks, 6.4/20. A movie, "Escape to Athena" (something to do with the Greek team?), on Channel 54 had a 4.2/13, pro wrestling on Channel 45 was at 3.2/10 and "NBA Inside Stuff" on Channel 2 was at 2.3/7. (Yokozuna was wrestling that day, so it obviously skewed the ratings.)
The World Cup drew higher numbers than some of Channel 13's programming normally in that slot. The Saturday before, "American Gladiators" had a 3.8/12 and "It's Academic" a 3.3/10.
(As always, local ratings supplied by Sharon "The Ratings Maven" Walz of Channel 11. (She's said to be quite disappointed that Lichtenstein isn't in the World Cup.)
Ratings measure the percentage of television households watching a program. Shares measure the percentage among homes where television is in use. And let me see if I got this straight: A yellow card is for a hard foul, a red card means you're ejected, a green card lets you stay in the country legally and a MasterCard is an official World Cup sponsor.
Cup not runneth over
Channel 13 programming director Michael Easterling said he was surprised by the relatively strong numbers the U.S. game drew Saturday, but his station definitely has been immunized against World Cup fever. Then again, who wants to see soccer when you can watch a 30-minute advertisement?
On Sunday, the first half-hour of the U.S.-Romania telecast, which begins at 4 p.m., will be pre-empted because WJZ has committed to an infomercial. Let's hope that it's at least trying to sell an American-made product.
Tomorrow, the ABC telecast of Belgium-Netherlands will be pre-empted by an Orioles game, and Channel 13 will pick up Argentina-Nigeria, a 4:05 p.m. start, after the Orioles, who begin at 1:35.
Beyond this weekend, Easterling said, "we'll look at the numbers real closely and then decide" about carrying other World Cup games. . . .
Golf fans looking for the U.S. Open Sunday on Channel 13, scheduled to go on at 1 p.m., instead got a half-hour of an infomercial. The problem was that ABC switched the golf start time to 1:30, Easterling said. . . .
Fox has hired versatile CBS announcer James Brown to be host of its NFL pre-game show, joining Terry Bradshaw, Jimmy Johnson and Howie Long on the program. Fox also has added ex-NFL coach Jerry Glanville as a game analyst.
If you watched Saturday's Orioles telecast on Channel 13, you heard nothing about the escalator accident at Camden Yards. There's a logical explanation: No one in the booth had the story.
"We didn't get any information on it," play-by-play announcer Mel Proctor said. "They [Orioles officials] formally made an announcement as we were going off the air."
Proctor said someone in the booth made a vague reference to an accident, but it went no further. If anyone involved in the production of Saturday's game took the extraordinary step of looking into the matter, Proctor apparently never found out about it.