Soccer fans to get their fill with Cup coverage

Media Watch

June 04, 1998|By Milton Kent

Admit it: Life would probably be easier and our planet would be better served if you did the things you were supposed to do, like flossing after meals or recycling all your plastics and glass items or even reading some other section of the newspaper besides sports.

You can add watching soccer to the list. For more than 20 years now, Americans have been hearing how it's only a matter of time before the game the rest of the world knows as football is seared into our national consciousness.

Indeed, ESPN's Bob Ley, who was the public address announcer for the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League, says stories of American apathy toward soccer are overplayed.

"American interest in soccer is understated," Ley said. "Participation is way up. You can't find a parking spot at any recreation park on Saturday mornings, and that's starting to pay off, too."

That may be, but it doesn't seem to be making a dent in one important area where American interest is measured: television ratings.

For instance, Saturday's United States-Scotland match drew a 0.5 rating and a 1 share of the audience here, meaning that fewer than 5,000 homes in a metropolitan area of nearly 100,000 homes took in the contest.

That made it the least watched of 16 sporting events aired in Baltimore last weekend, within two weeks of the World Cup, the sport's greatest spectacle in an area where there is some soccer interest.

Undaunted, ABC and its cable progeny, ESPN and ESPN2, are planning to spread out through the host country, France, and televise all 64 matches of the tournament, covering more than 230 hours, beginning with next Wednesday's Brazil-Scotland match at 11 a.m. on ESPN, through the final on July 12.

The cable channels will air a 30-minute pre-game show before each match, as well as a nightly highlights program and a replay of the match of the day on ESPN2.

ABC (Channel 2) will carry all of the matches involving the United States, beginning with its June 15 opening-round meeting with Germany, a June 21 meeting with Iran and a match with Yugoslavia on June 25.

The Americans, who were hosts to the Cup in 1994 (remember?), surprisingly made their way to the second round four years ago, but are considered a long shot, which may place even more of a drain on U.S. viewing interests.

"The best thing we can do is allow the flow of play to dictate what our coverage style," said Geoffrey Mason, executive producer of the World Cup telecasts. "If we are disciplined enough to basically stay out of the way of this event, it will express itself."

The question is, will anyone care?

Arli$$ season premiere a hit

It has been said that farce is what closes on Saturday, but Robert Wuhl's over-the-top sendup of sports agents, "Arli$$," is proof that you can't believe everything you hear.

In the third season premiere, which airs for the first time Sunday at 9: 30 p.m. and repeats through the next week on HBO, our hero Arliss Michaels is confronted with a dilemma: One of his clients, a successful backup quarterback, can't get a job offer around the NFL when his contract runs out, and Arliss believes it's because the quarterback is black.

When he discovers from his "cousin," ABC announcer Al Michaels, that there's another reason, Arliss actually gets his client noticed, but for another reason.

Wuhl, as usual, is brilliant as the hyperkinetic agent, while his associate Rita Woo, played cleverly by Sandra Oh, has a funny turn while trying to baby-sit boxer Oscar De La Hoya's new Ferrari.

If the first episode is any marker, "Arli$$" will provide an hilarious way to pass the long, hot summer.

Weekend ratings

The ratings for the top 10 most-watched sporting events on broadcast television in Baltimore last weekend:

Event ....... Day Ch. R/S

Pacers-Bulls Sun. 11 15.1/23

Pacers-Bulls Fri. 11 12.5/22

NBA pre-game Fri. 11 10.5/17

O's-Rangers Sat. 13 10.0/20

O's-Rangers Thu. 13 9.2/16

O's-Rangers Sun. 13 7.1/18

O's-Rangers Fri. 13 7.1/13

NBA pre-game Sun. 11 7.1/13

Track Sun. 13 5.7/14

French Open Sun. 11 3.9/9

Pub Date: 6/04/98

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