Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Hooray for ESPN and the World Cup: the real football! … by gimleteye

Back in the early Anthropocene, when I part of the first wave of youth soccer players in New England, the sport was a curiosity. Even recently, as youth soccer grew to the leading organized sport for youth, the game had not penetrated to the level of the other big three; baseball, basketball, and the other football.

Things do change and if the football adored by the rest of the world finds a home in the United States then anything is possible, even the awareness of climate change by Republicans. (How can a sport be called football when it mainly involves passing the ball from hand to hand? Rename the Washington Redskins and rename the NFL the "national hand ball league". NHBL.)

Without too much speculation, one certainty is that ESPN is delivering extraordinary visuals. Somewhere in the executive suite of ESPN/ABC a lot of careful attention was paid to knitting visual graphical element of the core World Cup to colors and styles of commercial advertisement used to fill in at the edges.

It makes a big difference. For once, the on air announcers are not hopelessly explanatory of the action on the field, as though trying to imitate the color play-by-play of other sports. Putting up recently retired stars -- like Michael Ballack and Gilberto Silva -- offers credibility too.

So all in all, Thursday's morning game between the USA and Germany is unlikely to stop the nation's economy the way it is in Mexico when the national team is playing, and the roster of US players is still heavily weighted toward members who grew up as children playing in Europe or the Americas. But we don't look like enthusiastic pretenders out on the field, any more, and that is a tribute to the evolution of the real football in the USA. (For its grudging acknowledgement of Team USA, the UK Guardian podcast -- Football Weekly -- deserve a few rounds of shandies down at the local pub.)

Meanwhile, the ESPN coverage sets a very high bar for visual performance by a television network; one that is likely to draw even larger audiences and profits in the future. And for the best TV ad campaign of the year, KIA's auto ads in the World Cup are the clear winner.

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