With the World Cup kicking off this week, soccer aficionados are showing ESPN and ABC the yellow card for the networks’ choice of lead play-by-play announcer.
Dave O’Brien is considered one of the country’s top baseball broadcasters but is new to soccer. And while he’s covered a handful of games in the run-up to the world’s most popular single-sport event, the move has already drawn broad criticism. “I feel like I am watching Joe Garagiola announcing at the dog show: knows how to announce, knows little about the sport,” said one soccer supporter on fan site bigsoccer.com.
ESPN and ABC Sports Senior VP and Executive Producer of Remote Productions Jed Drake says O’Brien is up to the challenge, but notes, “It is a bit of a calculated risk.”
O’Brien acknowledges fans’ “surprise that a so-called baseball guy is calling the sport” and has embarked on a five-month course to learn the nuances of the game. “It is like learning a new language from the ground up,” he says.
The World Cup runs June 9-July 9. ESPN is carrying every game live from Germany and in high-definition, as well as via its broadband service, ESPN360.
Univision, which will also carry every game live, though not in HD, says that, during the World Cup in 2002, 15 million of the 35 million viewers who watched the event on its network were non-Hispanic.