Champions League Moving to FOX

March 31, 2009

fscAfter this season is completed, the Champions League will be moving to the FOX Soccer Channel for the foreseeable future.

It’s not that ESPN has done a bad job. In fact I’ve been happy that ESPN has started covering more than one Champions League match per week (one on Tuesday and one on Wednesday) and always shows the final. For five years now I’ve watched as many of the matches as are available here in the States. And I even really enjoy the back-and-forth with Derek Rae and Tommy Smythe from the ESPN studios where the remotely call the games. That will be missed. And ESPN has in a way pioneered soccer on tv here in the States having held the rights to the Champions League (and its earlier equivalent) since the 1994-95 season.

But I’m happy any time ESPN loses out on even a tiny piece of the monopoly they’re trying to build across all sports. With Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, NBA, Monday Night Football and damn near every major conference’s college sporting events, not to mention the World Cup, early round Masters and myriad other events, ESPN has more than enough to get by. The FOX Soccer Channel does an excellent job of covering many different international leagues, including the English Premier League. Their matches are well-covered, the analysis is nice and unlike ESPN, available. FOX has pre-game, half-time and post-game shows where fans, especially casual ones, can learn a lot about the teams playing and the league in which the play. ESPN does none of that in this country.

One downside to this move is the availability of FSC is nowhere near that of ESPN or ESPN2. FSC appearing in around 35 million homes while ESPN reaches about 100 million (again, just in the US). But pure numbers of households does not automatically translate to viewership. In the 27 Champions League matches during last season, ESPN averaged about 255,000 households (I’m assuming that includes bars). The final in Moscow between Chelsea and Manchester United drew in about 800,000 households (and just over a million individual viewers). Of course any final between two English teams is going to be more highly viewed in this country. I’d love to see the numbers for the 2004 final between Porto and Monaco.

If FOX can get even 1% of its total households in the US to view Champions League matches each week, it will average almost 100,000 more viewers than ESPN ever had. The truth is that millions of people get ESPN but almost none care about soccer. That is evident in the numbers. 0.0026% of ESPN receivers actually tune in for the average Champions League match (which almost always includes at least one English club). People who get FSC are much more likely to watch it because there is no chance of seeing anything other than soccer on the network. In other words, you can’t be flipping through the channels and stumble on the FOX Soccer Channel and expect anything less.

I’ll be interested to see how the new coverage comes out. I’m happy that ESPN has carried the torch thus far. Let’s all hope that FOX can do an even better job of bringing us the world’s game.

Simmons v. Klosterman

March 13, 2009

Is it just me or does it seem like every time Bill Simmons talks to Chuck Klosterman he just gets destroyed?

Bill Simmons usually comes off as pretty smart, or at least witty, interesting and full of ideas. He seems to think more about things than anyone outside of Seinfeld and usually has opinions or suggestions for changes. That’s what makes him a lot different than other pundits out there, he almost always has solutions. They may not ever take place, or necessarily make sense, but he never really enters an argument without a change that he’d make if he were in charge.

But all of that falls apart when he talks to Chuck Klosterman. Chuck is an unusually bright guy if a little too intense about his thoughts about culture. He often thinks his way into and out of different scenarios and is an excellent contrarian and devil’s advocate. He’s great at reminding you that while you may think you know why you’re doing something or liking something, you’re probably forgetting something bigger (or smaller) that’s really going on. So when he talks to Bill Simmons, he just kills him.

The conversations that they’ve had publicly (ie, on Simmons’ podcast) are few but very telling. It’s like what happens in college when a blowhard tries to make a point in class and someone far more articulate who doesn’t talk much just mops the floor with the moron who is usually talking just to hear the sound of his own voice. Simmons asserts all of these opinions that his other guests either let slide or aren’t quick witted enough to respond to. Not Klosterman. Chuck challenges him on almost every point, and while he very often concedes a good point made by Simmons, he’ll slam the rest at junk.

Really, it’s a fantastic back-and-forth if you like seeing the inadequacies in someone being pointed out for all to see (or hear, in this case). I think Klosterman is brilliant (though way more into music than I prefer) but I would never ever want him on the podcast for this blog. Not that there’s any chance of that happening. But he’d kill me. All the points I’d want to make he’d question for psychological, ideological or other reasons like pure ineptitude and bullshit. That’s what he seems to have, a bullshit-radar that calls out people who are faking it. I wouldn’t say I’m faking it but sometimes people act like they know more than they really do. When Simmons does that, Klosterman jumps all over it.

I would link to their conversations on the BS Report but I try to avoid linking to ESPN at all costs. So go on there and find them if you’re interested in hearing them. Or better yet, read Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, Klosterman’s excellent book on pop culture. For those of us under 30, there’s some stuff that goes over your head because of the age difference and the things he took in as a kid as compared to our generation. But still, check it out.

US Hold Off Mexico in World Cup Qualifying

February 11, 2009

usWith the chance to take an early lead in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, the Americans knocked off Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, 2-0. Michael Bradley scored both goals for the US with the first coming just before half-time on a corner kick volley and the second in extra time to ensure the victory for the Americans. Rafa Márquez was sent off in the 65th minute for a boots-up challenge on American keeper Tim Howard, reducing Mexico to ten men for the final twenty-five minutes.

The first half was mostly owned by the Americans in both possession and in momentum. Mexico’s young lightening bolt Gio dos Santos (of Tottenham fame) had an early chance on goal but was denied by Howard. After that shot the US largely controlled the tempo of the half. Clint Dempsey and DaMarcus Beasley alternated sides in the midfield and along with Michael Bradley helped feed Brian Ching and Landon Donovan up top. The Bradley goal came when Beasley’s corner was headed by Donovan and Oguchi Onyewu before the coach’s son sent the rebound into the back of the net on volley.

Unlike the first half, the Americans came out flat and dry in the second half. Where their passes were crisp and spacing well thought out in the first half, the exact opposite was true in the second. There were very few opportunities on goal, though possession was still a strong point for the Americans. They simply could not make that final through pass to get a shot on goal. But at the same time, Mexico did nothing to really write home about, leaving a boring and choppy second half. The game got fiesty for a bit surrounding Márquez’s red card but the match was free of fights and any other cards (Howard did receive a yellow card in the same sequence). Only in the final moments was the US able to get out into space with Donovan finding Bradley who rocketed in the game clincher.

While I’m glad that ESPN covered the game, it’s growing very tiresome having such pro-American color analysts. John Harkes was the man for the job tonight, refusing to give Mexico credit for anything and jumping all over Sven-Göran Eriksson’s halftime comments claiming bad luck for the Mexicans. To be sure, I was pulling for the Americans to win the match. But I don’t need someone on tv telling me how great MLS and the Americans are without even acknowledging the positive aspects of the other side. This is not a total criticism of Harkes, I happen to have liked him back in his UVA days. But he’s just the latest pool boy for USA Soccer and it’s incredibly annoying to hear every time.

The Boston Knicks on MSG!

February 3, 2009


Seriously, how stupid can someone be? The Boston Knicks? And this is on the MSG network, a network that is owned by the same guy who owns the New York Knicks? It’s the Knicks’ network.

Between this, the Arizona porn debacle on Sunday and a myriad of other moments of retardation, it really has to make you wonder about what people are doing in those production trucks and studios. Are they doing stuff like this on purpose to see if people notice? Like the creepy individual frame things in Disney movies?

Thank God for Ombudsmen

January 14, 2009

espnThis is a fantastic read if you’re anything like me, which is to say, so tired of ESPN making itself the story in the world of sports. While ESPN Ombudsman Le Anne Schreiber is definitely not overly hard on the network, and actually basically says that in the three examples she gives that it happened accidentally, she certainly quotes plenty of readers/viewers who express strong opinions on their negative feelings toward the ubiquitousness of ESPN.

I find her fourth example to be the most glaring example of ESPN making itself the story instead of the sports they claim to promote. The announcer swap was as obvious a case of the network thinking that people care more about who’s announcing a game than the game itself and it’s constant advertising for it was really over the top.

Anyway, take a read. It doesn’t quite express most of our annoyances but at least it for once addresses them from within the umbrella of the ‘family of networks.’

Is There Anything In Between?

September 26, 2008

What ever happened to the nerdy, sports-obsessed sports writers and commentators? It is becoming increasingly annoying to listen to talking-heads spew out information on their personal lives and drop names like they’re a hot potato. There is also the other side of the coin, to use another stupid cliche, which is the older members of the media making totally outdated references that very few folks even understand. Can’t we just have guys talk about sports on tv anymore without all the extra stuff?

Some examples:

Bill SimmonsJimmy Kimmel, Las Vegas, Adam Carolla, etc. Simmons has never-ending stories about gambling, writing for Kimmel’s show and meeting people like Mike Tyson or Isiah Thomas (as mediated by Gus Johnson). This is increasingly taking away from his schtick as an everyman.
JA Adande & Mike WilbonPhotos of them with porn stars, constant stories about meeting up with players at ‘the club’ and unabashed name-dropping (Charles Barkley, anyone from Northwestern, Shaq, etc.).

Tony Kornheiser – On Wednesday’s PTI, Kornheiser made the following references: Jackie Gleason, Dick Van Dyke, 78 RPM and the immortal Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain. These are all legitimate references as long as you’re at least 50 years old. For those of us half that age or younger, he’s going way over our heads.
Chris Berman – Refuses to make musical references that are less than forty years old. Also, his nicknames are getting a bit old as well. Curtis ‘My Favorite’ Martin and Mark ‘Ray’ Bulger are just two examples of the ancient material he’s working with.

A Sad Day in Sports Journalism

August 27, 2008

CollinsHas it really come to this? I am usually a big fan of the coverage provided by Sports Illustrated and it’s website,, but this is awful. Maybe this is an attempt to stoop to the ESPN level, but today the featured front page story is “Ranking NFL Backup QB’s.”

I realize having a decent backup is an important part of a successful NFL team and that if you’re starter gets hurt, it’s really really important to have a guy there who can step in. But we’re at a point in the world where there is an entire column devoted to rating them? Isn’t it much more important how these guys fit into their individual systems and not how they compare to one another? And is there even a fantasy angle here? I mean, how many backup quarterbacks are ever drafted in fantasy leagues before the season starts? It can’t be many.

The fact that you have to look for a possible fantasy angle to give any possible explanation for a column like this is just pathetic. SI should be ashamed of this, especially running it as a 2000 word lead story on the website. If you need filler, ok, bury it behind four links. But on the main page is just bad.

Please Please Keep ESPN Off the Olympics

August 20, 2008

I don’t care if every event is on tape-delay for the rest of my life, I really can’t stand the thought of ESPN airing the Olympics starting as early as 2014 (wherever that might be). Just think of it, instead of Bob Costas and Brian Williams of NBC News, we’ll get Chris Berman, Stuart Scott and all your other favorite arsehole talking heads polluting what is already the muddy waters of the Olympics. NBC has done a great job of being mostly understate, of having restrained commentators and for not overly promoting other things on their channels during actual coverage. I can see it now, all-around gymnastics finals, in between the final two competitors, a brief plug saying: “Don’t forget to tune in Sunday evening for the the New York Liberty taking on the LA Sparks. The WNBA on ESPN.”