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Monday, June 21, 2021

Broadcasters must re

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I loved football’s return-to-play. I know there are arguments — smart, sensible ones — for why the sport should not return right now. But I loved it; I’m only human.

I was struck by some of the commentary though, both online and the real, actual commentary covering the matches. The online spew about how this was all so weird was a bit much. We’ve seen behind-closed-doors football matches before, it’s not that abnormal.

What was abnormal was the live commentary. That was different (as was all the masks and the gaps between the substitutes bench). Talk of matches in silence isn’t exactly true. We are, at all times, treated the dulcet tones of a commentary team. More than ever, they can make or break the experience.

Yesterday’s coverage was a little all over the place. The main BT Sports duo on the centerpiece Borussia Dortmund-Schalke game had a noticeable delay, between each other and from match-to-speaking: ball kicked… beat, beat …. speak. It was just a little off. And made all the worse when the duo would speak over one another, then take that awkward beat as you wait for the other person to restart the discussion, not wanting to maul their sentence again.

Two highlights from the Dortmund-Schalke duo:

– Paul Dempsey being disrupted mid-game by a grocery delivery. A sterling effort from the lead man.

– McManaman discussing the form of the two sides, despite both being sofa-ridden for two months.

I was less bothered than most about some of the solo commentary exploits. That is a damn near impossible job.

We should cut the broadcasters slack as a whole, of course. They are not in the stadiums at the moment. They’re commentating from miles and miles away, at home, with all kinds of monitors set-up and distractions in the background. There’s that delay. And there’s only so much you can do with Steve McMannaman.

Still: there are a dearth of quality, top-end announcers right now — those big-game voices. That will become more apparent as their influence on the perceived quality of matches continues to rise. Ian Darke is great. Darren Fletcher has rounded into a brilliant Champions League night voice after a rocky start. After that, pfffft.

It’s time to innovate. We’ve already seen Amazon, a new-comer to the Premier League game this season, try something a little different with their commentary streams: Silencing them altogether. It was a brilliant idea. They boosted the crowd sound and switched up where the mics were for different parts of the game. Obviously, it didn’t re-create the feeling of being at Anfield, but it was a welcome reprieve from some of the dopey commentary we are often subjected too.

With no crowds, the no-commentary option is out. What should be available, though, either through the red button or online companion streams, is a host of different options, at least for a couple of games.

There are a bunch of streams that could draw in new audiences or give a better, more customized experience to the current audience:

  • An analytical broadcast: Bring in the likes of Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher offering Monday Night Football style analysis in-the-moment. Or get out-of-work coaches — not those doing hello-owner-I’m-here-let-me-manage-again kinds, the kind who really care about the craft of teaching.

  • A podcast-y type: I’m a keen listener to Raphael Honigstein’s podcast on German football, enjoy his books and columns, it would have been nice to have had a more laid-back option during the Bundesliga telecast to just listen to him offer context and nuance and share stories. He was already on set! Let’s do it, BT.

  • Youtubers: Some already run companion streams and draw monster engagement. It would be silly for the traditional broadcast companies to overlook their success.

  • Fantasy Football: With games rattling along at all times, there would be plenty of people who would want a broadcast that jumps around games and provides a fantasy football element.

  • Comedians: Some days I’m in the mood for super nerdy, tactical discussions. But if I’m watching Burnley vs. Spurs, for example, I kind of just want to enjoy the match and to have a laugh. Grab a comedian or two. Get outsiders. Get people who love the game. I’m not talking about the League of Their Own type; someone with actual observational talent and ability. Grab Bill Burr . Get the Football Ramble boys. Or let Peter Crouch conduct his brand of nonsense. There’s no reason why you can’t have something like this in an accompanying stream:

youtube.com/watch?v=QXhrCm6zdr4

This is going to be the new normal for a long, long time. Broadcasters must adapt. Doing the same old, same old won’t cut it. New technology, camera shots, etc. should be on there way as they work through the early stages of this new era (do not forget: the broadcasters are having to figure all this out while practicing their own social distancing etc.). There is all sorts of innovation to be had, so long as the football clubs and governing bodies relent.

The one thing the broadcasters can control independently, however, is who talks on the games — or at least who talks on companion streams away from the sanctioned “real” matches. They should look to bring in fresh voices that would inject some kind of authenticity into what could quickly devolve into a fairly antiseptic product.

The Mike Tyson Comeback

I have to shoehorn this in here because there is nowhere else I can get this out.

What in the what?!?!?

Mike Tyson is coming back to boxing. OK. The videos are cool. People are excited. He still looks like a relentless athlete on the pads. But there’s talk among the online commentariat that he could still win fights against professionals and he could knock people out and whatnot.

Am I dreaming? Is this bannanaland? Mike Tyson is 53-years-old. Yes, he is in outrageous shape. Yes, he looks frightening on the pads. The pads. But have people forgotten: Tyson lost three of his final four bouts when he was still a professional. It’s as though there’s a belief he was Prime Tyson all the damn time. He was not. He got old. He got stodgy. He lost twice when he was thirty. He lost to a man whose nickname was The Clones Colossus, which should be self-disqualifying from a return to any sport. The only thing he beat during his final four fights was something called Clinton Ettiene, which sounds like a woodwind instrument or someone who deals in Fabergé eggs.

You can tell me Tyson is shooting himself with horse tranquilizers and that special Lance Armstrong blend or God knows what. And you can say he’s now clean and sober and that his conditioning is like that of someone in their late 30s. I’ll hear all that out. You can tell me he’d beat Evander Hollyfield if the pair returned to the ring to fight for the Geriatric Championship of the world. I’d believe that also. But stop the nonsense that he could do anything against any top-class professional fighter right now. He could barely stand in the ring by the end of his career.

From the Mailbag

Tom Brady is reportedly renting Derek Jeter’s house in Florida after signing with the Bucs. Which player/manager/athletes house would you rent if you could?

Liam, Northampton

I love this story. It reminds me of when Klopp rented from Brendan Rodgers and sports broadcasters thought they were being all kooky and fun when they would mention it each and every day.

It also reminds me of this: I recently rented a place in Manchester — Salford, really — that was also home to United forward Anthony Martial. He rented the penthouse (duh) and you could physically see into Old Trafford from his vantage point. I always thought that was odd.

This question led me down an extraordinary YouTube rabbit hole. I’m not sure there’s a finer way to spend this secluded, isolated existence than looking at the mansions, pools, and game rooms of multi-millionaires.

My big point: I don’t want too much home. Mansions freak me out. Any time the answer to the question “Where did I leave X?” could end with “I’m not sure if it’s in the East or West wing” I’m out.

But I also don’t want to be surrounded by people during the pandemic. That’s another thing: Am I moving there now? Like, would I have to go to a U.S. state that’s open amid all that is going on? That complicates things. Can I choose to live like a hermit regardless?

I’m going to pick under the impression that we remain in isolation. I’m going with Lebron James’ Miami-area house , which is currently up for sale and which recently dropped in price from $17 million to $15 million.

For the money, you get an infinity pool, a rooftop deck, a home theatre and sun, sun, sun.

My runner up: Joe Montana’s Napa Valley estate . Montana’s home includes a fully-fledged olive farm, an equestrian stable, a swimming pool, a basketball court, and a skeet shooting station. It also overlooks wine country, which may come in handy as we teeter towards the apocalypse.

What I’m reading

I just finished David Talbot’s “ The Devil’s Chessboard ”, a searing look at the formation of the CIA, it’s role in post-war Europe, and the cold-war years. It’s brilliant and terrifying and thoroughly absorbing.

If you’re into music and haven’t already, I’d recommend picking up all of David Hepworth’s stuff. They’re short, breezy, enjoyable reads. In order of my preference: Uncommon People ; 1971 ; A Fabulous Creation ; Nothing is Real .

If you’re enjoying The Last Dance on Netflix or ESPN, finding yourself falling in love with basketball or looking to dig more into its history, here are, in order, the books I’d recommend:

  • The Breaks of the Game, David Halberstam — the best single-season book.

  • The Jordan Rules, Sam Smith — As noted in the doc.

  • The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons — a little dated now, but still the best overview/historical context.

  • Seven Seconds or Less — Basketball’s version of “Moneyball”.

  • A Season on the Brink — Hard to find, but the greatest writing + subject marriage on the list. Read as an unhinged coach unravels.

  • When the Game Was Ours — The only Larry and Magic book you need.

I thoroughly enjoyed this from David Hughes on the new Neymar with a unique skill-set for his body type.

This on that bonkers time David James played upfront was fun.

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