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Pierce: Soccer sportscasting requires more than British accent

Published April 23, 2013 11:37 pm

Television • There are Americans who can call a game as well or better than Brit counterparts.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A couple of years ago, when KUTV's David James was doing television play-by-play for Real Salt Lake games, he asked team captain Kyle Beckerman what he thought of the job he was doing.

Beckerman replied that he couldn't take James seriously because James doesn't have a British accent.

He was kidding. Sort of. Giving James a hard time. The two of them get along fine, and James took no offense.

"You like what you like. It's all entertainment," James said. "And if he doesn't like to hear Americans call soccer, he's not alone."

Certainly, there are plenty of fans who are suspicious of Americans calling soccer. The assumption is that the folks on this side of the Atlantic don't know much about the game and are terrible at telecasting it.

And there have been times when that was absolutely true. ESPN was beyond crazy in 2006 when it assigned a baseball guy, Dave O'Brien, as its lead announcer for the World Cup. It was a disaster.

Four years later, ESPN went with Brits (led by Ian Darke and Martin Tyler), and it was arguably the best World Cup coverage ever in the United States.

There is nobody I'd rather listen to calling a game than Darke. But it's not because of his accent, it's because he's great at his job.

OK, the accent does add some extra authority to it. It's the way viewers in this country - including Beckerman - have been conditioned.

However, not all Americans are bad at it. Incumbent RSL play-by-play guy Bill Riley makes it look easy. So easy that local fans, perhaps, take him for granted.

And not all Brits are good at it. Listening to Arlo White call the April 6 RSL-Colorado game on the NBC Sports Network was painful. Aggravating. Grating.

NBC took the mistake ESPN made in 2006, turned it 180 degrees and made the same error in reverse. Giving the job to a Brit because he's a Brit is equally ridiculous.

The native of Leicester, England, is, at best, repetitive. At worst, he sometimes seems utterly clueless.

Riley calls a better game on KTVX-Channel 4/KUCW-Channel 30 than White calls on NBCSN.

Of course, the local productions of MLS games are better than most of NBCSN's national games, too. Which is sort of scary when you think that NBC will be the American home of the English Premiere League beginning in 2014.

MLS fans won't have White to kick around after this season. He will be NBC's lead EPL announcer next season.

Sure, it makes sense to give an Englishman that job. But there are much better Englishmen to choose from.

NBC has yet to name a new lead announced for its 2014 MLS telecasts. Plenty of time for that.

It's just scary to think that NBC will do what it did the last time it was looking to fill that position - look to the Seattle Sounders for a English accent ... er, uh, a replacement. And there are plenty of RSL fans who can tell you how bad Ross Fletcher is - NBCSN picked up two Seattle telecasts late in the 2012 season, and he was atrocious.

On a scale of 10, RSL telecasts are maybe a 3 in terms of homer-ism. Seattle's are a 13.

Yes, Seattle has a British accent in the booth. But - no matter what Kyle Beckerman thinks - that alone is not enough.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce. —