SI Vault
Jack McCallum
February 12, 1979
Come April 7, soccer hopes to make its Great Leap Forward as a major sport offered on U.S. television. Well, if not exactly a leap, a significant hop. The campaign will start with a one-hour special to open the season, followed by nine live broadcasts of North American Soccer League games by ABC-TV. The network has paid the league, whose officials have long expressed an eagerness to mass-market the game, approximately $1.5 million for the rights to broadcast the games for two years. Both ABC-TV and the NASL are aware of the fact that, so far as tradition is involved, soccer may never be the same.
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February 12, 1979

Now You See It, Now You Don't

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"In 143 games, we missed only five goals," says Lou Tyrrell, executive producer at Sugarman, "and only four because of commercials. In the other, a director screwed up."

While ABC and the NASL may think this sounds comforting, to the soccer purist a low GVADNS—nay, a zero GVADNS—is no guarantee of success. Although ABC says it plans to do most of its cutting away during injuries or on goalie kicks, the game will be interrupted. Try telling a horse-racing fan that the start of the race isn't important as long as we see the finish, or a basketball fan that the way one team breaks a full-court press isn't important as long as we see the shot. To purists, any interruption is irritating.

Commercial stations televising soccer in most European countries—where interruption of a game could precipitate a revolution—place all their commercials before and after the game and at halftime. This would seem to be the most logical course for ABC. a chance to break new ground in the pursuit of "pure-sport" broadcasts. But the network has other plans for that dead time.

"What we have to do is personalize the coverage," says Spence. "We hope to identify the stars and let the public meet them. At half-time, we hope to do profiles, what we call Up Close and Personal." Along with this approach it appears that ABC is leaning toward a name broadcaster like Howard Cosell rather than a soccer expert.

"The league would like Cosell involved." says Spence. "They made that very clear." NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam says, "Howard was the first one to pick up on the soccer boom, and he's been very positive toward us. Sure, he'd add prestige. That's what we're looking for."

Other possibilities are Jim McKay, who probably knows no less about soccer than he knows about other sports but has managed to cultivate a kind of all-round-expert voice from his years on Wide World of Sports, and Keith Jackson, who is smooth and far less objectionable to most people than Cosell or McKay. "Our principal announcers are extremely well known," says Spence. "And, to a certain degree, viewers do watch because they're involved. That's just a fact. We've got to enlighten and entertain."

Well, if this is what the NASL wants.... They say that to get something you've got to give something up. It remains to be seen if the NASL is willing to trade the integrity of its product for a few Nielsen points.

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