On June 10, the opening day of ESPN's World Cup coverage, studio host Dave Revsine asked his viewers a question. "Would you rather watch the World Cup," said Revsine, paraphrasing the question that had been posed to British males aged 20-34, "or spend a passionate night with the woman of your dreams?"
For those 95% who voted for a seat in front of the tube, there is a terrific bonus. Julie Foudy. In her first week as a studio soccer analyst for ESPN, Foudy, a co-captain of the 1996 U.S. Olympic gold medal squad and member of the Women's World Cup team, has shown—and elicited—more passion than her male compatriots did in their 2-0 loss to Germany. An on-air novice, Foudy, 27, has quickly emerged as an engaging, enthusiastic presence. Watching her is more fun than saying " Sepp Blatter" five times fast.
Last Wednesday, which marked her eighth straight day on the air since her debut, the sunny Californian's glib nature had yet to succumb to exhaustion caused by 12-hour, daylight-deprived workdays. "Dino Baggio to Di Biagio," she ad-libbed as highlights of Italy's 3-0 victory over Cameroon appeared on the screen. "Confused? So am I."
The truth is, she knows her way around the pitch. As a 10-year U.S. national team veteran whose games have often served as the warmup act for men's matches, Foudy had a head start at mastering the most taxing of World Cup broadcasting tasks: the pronunciation of the more than 700 international players' names.
"My only mandate for the troops is credibility," says Jeff Mason, ABC/ ESPN's executive producer for the World Cup. "Julie not only knows the sport, she also knows many of the players personally. I'm continually amazed at how much she knows."
Foudy was not the first female soccer player that ESPN considered. Her more famous Olympic teammate Mia Hamm was. "Mia's name was the first thrown on the table when we discussed it," says World Cup 2 Night senior coordinating producer Barry Sacks. "But what we saw, and this is no knock on Mia, is that Julie is more bubbly, more exuberant and has more of a personality than Mia."
Though not the first female jock to provide commentary on a men's athletic event (see Mary Carillo, tennis; Cheryl Miller, basketball; and Donna De Varona, swimming), Foudy is unusual in that she is doing so while still in the prime of her playing career. In the midst of her five-week ESPN stint, the four-time Stanford All-America midfielder will play in a pair of friendly matches pitting the U.S. against Germany. She looks forward to next summer, when the United States will host the Women's World Cup.
"By then," says Foudy, "maybe thanks to this studio exposure, we should have more fans." Particularly more male fans, guys who understand that soccer and the opposite sex are not mutually exclusive.
"I got an E-mail the other day from a viewer," says Foudy, who lives with her husband, Ian Sawyers, in Laguna Niguel, Calif. "It said, 'Next time you're in D.C., we'll shoot billiards, eat grilled salmon and take a hot tub.' "
You think Seamus Malin ever gets invites like that?