In U.S., Cup excitement still world away

ON MEDIA

June 02, 2006|By RAY FRAGER

Sure, we kid the World Cup. If Germany gets eliminated, we can all say, look, Ma, no Hans. If you're rooting for your favorite African team, you could say the squad is Ghana get it done. And if that South American club is relying on two players, it would be a matter of a pair of guys powering Paraguay.

Thank you, thank you, I'm here all week. Try the schnitzel.

A week from today, the World Cup begins its monthlong run on ESPN and ABC. The soccer enthusiasts - the ones who TiVo Premier League games and wear Azzurri jerseys to the office - along with much of the world, can hardly wait. This is one sporting event that literally draws billions of viewers.

For a lot of the American audience, though, it's a lot like the Olympics. We'll pay attention once every four years, then go back to our sports in which you can touch the ball.

Except the World Cup is more than the Olympics - at least that is the case according to Jed Drake, ESPN/ABC Sports senior executive vice president.

"The scope of it is enormous," he said in a conference call Wednesday. "It's bigger than the Olympics.

"The fans of this event will know exactly when each game will be televised. ... Our goal is to get the more casual fan involved in the event."

That could be a matter of climbing a steep learning - or interest - curve. According to a poll released this week by Global Market Insite, 56 percent of American respondents calling themselves World Cup fans didn't know the event was being played in Germany and only 11 percent said they planned to watch games on television.

ESPN and ABC will carry all the matches live. Because of the time difference, games will be on during the day, between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Oh, the World Cup also will be shown in high definition. But - because I know you're interested - the Frager household remains HDTV-free.

The networks have taken the unusual step of making Dave O'Brien, a baseball announcer but a soccer broadcasting novice, the main play-by-play man.

Tim Scanlan, senior coordinating producer for ESPN/ABC Sports, said: "It was time to take a voice who was from a more mainstream sport, baseball. It was time to take a calculated risk. ... We were going to take a signature voice from one sport and make him a signature voice in soccer."

O'Brien has had to immerse himself in research heading into the tournament.

"You should see my dining room table," he said, "because I haven't seen it in five months."

O'Brien will team with former U.S. national player Marcelo Balboa. And Balboa said this year's version of the American squad should be a force.

"Other countries are thinking, `Holy cow, we got to play the U.S.,'" Balboa said. " ... Other countries are scared of the U.S."

Still, even advancing beyond its group, which includes Italy, the Czech Republic and Ghana, would be an accomplishment, Balboa said. This isn't the proverbial "Group of Death," but still ...

"I think it's the second-toughest group," Balboa said, "but if they get out of it, then they're in the Group of Death."

On call

ESPN/ABC's other announcing teams are J.P. Dellacamera/John Harkes, Rob Stone/Robin Fraser, Adrian Healey/Tommy Smyth and Glenn Davis/Shep Messing. On some games, the announcers will be making the call while watching on monitors in a studio. In fact, the latter two pairs will work from ESPN's studios in Bristol, Conn.

We interrupt ...

During Wednesday's Orioles telecast on Comcast SportsNet, several inning breaks featured announcers talking instead of commercials. A Comcast SportsNet spokesman said this was a technical problem, but it wasn't a surprise for those producing the game. However, the problem should be fixed, so don't worry about missing any more commercials.

TD's 35th

Mark Viviano's show on WJFK (1300 AM) yesterday featured a celebration of Tom Davis' 35th anniversary in sportscasting. It may seem he has appeared on just about every broadcasting outlet in town, but actually he has missed a few, though not many. By Davis' recollection, he has been on WBAL, WCBM, WQSR and WJFK radio and TV channels 11, 13, 45 and 54. Not to mention Comcast SportsNet's precursor, Home Team Sports. Oh, and network gigs with NBC and Mutual radio and NBC TV. No wonder his distinctive cackle seems to permanently float through the local airwaves.

ray.frager@baltsun.com

Read Ray Frager's blog at baltimoresun.com/mediumwell

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.