I was all set to lavish praise on ESPN for its coverage of Euro 2008 ... and then came Wednesday's technical problems.
No, I'm not going to blame ESPN for the lightning-caused blackouts that prevented viewers from seeing big chunks of Germany's exciting 3-2 win over Turkey in the semifinals of the European soccer championships. But ESPN's decision to have its announcers sit in a Connecticut studio instead of traveling to Austria and Switzerland seems somewhat suspect.
But let's get back to the lavish praise. The various ESPN networks and ABC have provided American viewers unprecedented coverage of a soccer tournament that includes many of the best teams in the world but no Americans.
For too long, the assumption by American TV execs has been that Americans won't watch unless Americans are involved. Just look at NBC American-centric coverage of the Olympics.
When Sunday's Euro 2008 final airs on ABC (12:30 p.m., Ch. 4), all 31 matches in the tournament will have been seen live on American television. Five matches were on ESPN Classic (which is not available in about 40 percent of U.S. homes), but 17 were telecast on ESPN2, seven on ESPN and two on ABC channels that are available in virtually every home that's hooked up to a cable or satellite system.
And, with the exception of the games on ESPN Classic, all the games were telecast in HD.
It's also been refreshing to see that ESPN apparently no longer thinks its viewers are too dumb to understand non-American accents. It hasn't been at all difficult to understand Scotsmen Andy Gray and Derek Ray, Irishman Tommy Smyth and Englishman Adrian Healey.
Remember, just two years ago ESPN/ABC inflicted overmatched soccer novice Dave O'Brien on viewers as the lead announcer for the 2006 World Cup. Because, again, the thinking was that we were too dumb to listen to someone with a non-American accent.
As for having your announcers in Bristol, Conn., to telecast matches taking place in Europe, well ... if that's what had to happen to make this financially feasible, so be it.
And while there's been criticism in some quarters claiming that ESPN was somehow deceiving its viewers, that's simply not true. Maybe if you watched a couple minutes of a game or two you might have been confused but not if you were watching for any length of time.
If you saw the same guy who was working the game on the studio show a couple of minutes later, that should have tipped you off.
If ESPN had had sportscasters at the site of the Germany-Turkey game, maybe they could have at least done a radiolike report instead of keeping viewers in the dark. Literally.
But it's not ESPN's fault that lightning took out the video feed.And, quite honestly, this coverage of Euro 2008 is the sort of thing American soccer fans used to only dream about.
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