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The Daily Wave: Gimmicks To The Rescue

What would a soccer telecast be without gimmicks? What if we had real play-by-play and were forced to focus on the game? Fortunately, it's on page 74 of the US Constitution that we never need find out what horrors would ensue.

'Man of the Match' Matias Sanchez
'Man of the Match' Matias Sanchez

Since I am a 29 hour drive from Dick's Sporting Goods Park, I watch games on MLS Live. That means I get to see whichever broadcast MLS decides to air. On Saturday, it was the Columbus Crew broadcast.

Duncan Oughton, the Crew color guy, joined the broadcast seven minutes late after his goodbye ceremony on the field before kickoff (he's been named an assistant coach for Toronto FC, so this was his last game in the booth for Columbus). What was noticeable from the kickoff until Oughton arrived was how much actual play-by-play his partner, Dwight Burgess, provided. To the uninformed viewer, all of this focusing on the game itself could have been considered refreshing, even delightful! But fortunately this oh so very un-American activity was put to a stop before it got out of hand.

For years MLS and US Soccer announcers have worked tirelessly to keep the viewers' focus on anything but the actual play on the field. This Fox Sports Ohio announcer was on the verge of destroying decades of hard work in a matter of minutes. But fortunately, as soon the announcer's wingman got into the booth, they were able to stop all that silly play-by-play nonsense. After all, it is quite simply un-American to talk about the game. By doing so we run the risk that people who are accidentally watching the game (broken remote, temporary paralysis, whatever the reason) might think that soccer is exciting enough to be the focus of the broadcast! So after a very shaky start, it was nice to see some order restored, and that such patriotism still exists in America's heartland.

In minute eight, though still somewhat out of breath from his sprint up the stairs, Oughton admirably grabbed his headset and immediately went into his 'keys to the game' for the Crew, starting with "score first." On the one hand, I was very impressed that Oughton didn't just go with "Crew must score more." That would have been a bit too obvious. Scoring first is a much more subtle way to win a game. But within seconds of Oughton sharing his keys, Edson Buddle drove the Crew's bus right into a bank of empty yellow seats, by scoring first...for the Rapids. Maybe they should have shared the keys to the game before the game, or maybe even over the loudspeaker. Then maybe Buddle would not have been so irresponsible.

Fortunately, the announcing team did not let this early failure shake their focus or bend their patriotism. They found other ways to take the viewers' attention from the field. However, it was disconcerting that the various gimmicks were not used as frequently as they could have been. For example, at halftime and again at the 60 minute mark, the Fox Sports Ohio's sideline reporter was given ample airtime to ask some very useless questions. Crew player Tyson Wahl and head coach Robert Warzycha both responded in kind, making sure not to say anything that could be construed as informative or interesting. Job well done. What was disappointing was the absence of the useless interview at the 30 minute mark. What if a goal had been scored at the 30 minute mark!?! Without the interview, viewers would have been forced to watch it!

Again, the broadcast was redeemed by another gimmick, letting viewers pick the 'man of the match' by text message. The announcers had gone on record as saying that, despite his silly hard foul leading indirectly to Dillon Powers' game-ending goal, midfielder Matias Sanchez had performed well at times in the midfield, but probably should have been shown at least one yellow card (i.e. it's amazing he made it to 77 minutes before hitting the shower). If his performance was man-of-the-match material, then the Crew certainly deserved the loss. But the American people spoke (or perhaps more likely, Sanchez' family had just purchased an unlimited text plan). Having not been burdened by paying attention to the actual game, viewers appropriately voted him 'man of the match.' So the announcers, almost audibly squirming in their seats, were able to end the game by announcing Sanchez was "man of the match...through your votes." It was a fitting end to that game thing that just happened down there on the grass.

In all seriousness, Burgess and Oughton weren't all that bad, especially in comparison to much of their competition. All the gimmicks and promos and occasional tangential banter aside, they did a fairly good job of staying focused on the game. They were also more neutral that many local broadcast teams. I've heard FAR worse from other announcers over the years, including many (which, by the way, is homer for "most") Rapids' telecasts of years past. But those first seven minutes were an unfortunate tease of what could be, if sports broadcast producers were able to understand that, rather than enhancing the watching experience, booth banter and gimmicks detract from the game and discourage viewership.