Shooting from the lip/June 28th edition
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...
The good news for America's soccer movement is 14.8 million people watched Saturday's World Cup match between the United States and Ghana, making it the most-watched men's soccer game ever in the United States. The bad news is the United States lost. So the question is, will Americans continue to watch the rest of the World Cup now that the U.S. is out? The numbers suggest probably not. The World Cup has attracted an average of about 2.7 million viewers per match on ABC/ESPN, and that includes the games involving the United States. Saturday morning's Uruguay-South Korea match had about 3.2 million viewers.
It's important to remember that these games are not being played in prime time. They are on during the morning and afternoon and, mostly, during the week when many people are at work. By comparison, the final round of last week's U.S. Open golf tournament drew about 9.2 million viewers, last weekend's NASCAR race had 4.4 million viewers and last weekend's Fox baseball game of the week had around 2.2 million viewers.
So, undoubtedly, ABC/ESPN's ratings will take a major hit now that the United States is out of the tournament. The numbers show that the overwhelming majority who were watching were watching because United States was playing, not watching because they love soccer. Football fans watch the NFL playoffs even if their team is eliminated. Same with baseball fans and the baseball playoffs. But this World Cup has shown us that Americans in large numbers are interested in soccer only when the U.S. team is playing. Regardless, ABC/ESPN's coverage has been nothing short of incredible, making it the network's finest hour. Sadly for ABC/ESPN fewer people -- a lot fewer people -- will be watching what is left of its coverage.
Last week, I was critical of ABC/ESPN's Alexi Lalas, the former American soccer player who let his red-white-and-blue ties affect his commentary. However, Lalas deserves credit Sunday for essentially saying the United States choked against Ghana. Sure, the U.S. team had a nice run, but it ultimately ended because it could not beat a team it should have beaten.
"Here was an opportunity for the U.S. team to beat Ghana,'' Lalas said. "It's Ghana. With all due respect, it's not Germany, it's not Brazil, it's not Mexico. So it's a wasted opportunity.''
Meantime, German-born commentator Jurgen Klinsmann, who has lived mostly in the United States over the past 12 years, hit America over the head with this cold, hard fact: The U.S. might never catch up to the rest of the world because our best athletes do not play soccer. They play football, basketball and baseball. Klinsmann said the kids who play soccer in the United States usually come from middle-class or above families. But for the rest of the world, soccer players emerge from a "lower-class'' environment. Americans, he said, spend money for their children to play so that they will eventually earn a college scholarship. In a sense, soccer stars in the United States aren't born, they are created. "Americans have their pyramid upside down,'' Klinsmann said.
This is about B.J. Upton, below. No, I don't mean he showed the 'best hustle.'' But Sun Sports did. Sun Sports showed it never takes a break, even between innings, when covering the Rays. Cameras were all over the dugout confrontation Sunday between Evan Longoria and Upton after Upton loafed after a ball in the gap and was called on it by Longoria. Broadcasters Dewayne Staats and Kevin Kennedy did their job by talking about the exchange and, mostly, for taking a stance instead of remaining neutral. Both pinned the blame on Upton for not hustling and credited Longoria for taking action.
I'm not a fan of sweeping it under the rug by saying that this happens on all teams, because none of us knows how this will affect the relationship between Upton and Longoria, Upton and his teammates, and Upton and the fans. Longoria and Upton can say the issue is 'buried'' or "over,'' but it isn't buried in the minds of the fans and how they will view Upton from now on. Meantime, ESPN was all over Upton during SportsCenter highlights. During the replay of Upton jogging after a ball in the gap, SportsCenter anchor Linda Cohn said, "What the heck?! This is not in slow-motion!''
And during ESPN's Baseball Tonight, analyst Bobby Valentine said, "Really inexcusable to jog after a ball in a nothing-nothing game.'' Baseball Tonight's John Kruk added, "This is not a isolated incident (with Upton).''
"American chances going … going … Ghana.''
Chris Fowler, ABC World Cup host
Interesting doings over the weekend at Wimbledon as a chair umpire told Rafael Nadal to stop getting instructions from his coach in the stands during his match against Philipp Petzschner. And that set NBC analyst Mary Carillo on an entertaining tirade.
"It's cheating,'' Carillo said. "It's illegal. What you got to do is take an umpire and put him in the players' box for every match. Just park him right there, especially (for) the ones who are so blatant. Make them sit there right next to the coach. … The important thing is to make it so players know not to do it, not to look up. And coaches know not to try. Just change the culture of professional tennis. Start it in the juniors.''
Later, the umpire gave Nadal an official warning.
"It's about time!” Carillo said. "(Players getting instructions) has been going on for years. It's become a joke.''
NBC partner John McEnroe cracked that if they stopped play to warn female players for getting coaching, "they'll never finish.'' Then both McEnroe and Carillo pointed out that Roger Federer, and Serena and Venus Williams never look up to the stands during a match. Carillo and McEnroe don't care who they criticize or offend. They simply call it like they see it, and that's why they are among the two best analysts -- not just tennis, but all sports -- on television.
NBC's Mary Carillo made Wimbledon fun this weekend by taking some shots at Rafael Nadal for getting coaching during the match and blasting away at Maria Sharapova for Sharapova's ear-piercing shrieking every time she hits a ball, including one time when she hit a soft volley. Carillo pointed out that she watched practically every point of the three-day marathon match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut and, "I didn't hear one grunt. And Maria has to grunt as she makes that easy swing volley? I mean, come on. That's just insane.''
Three things that popped into my head
1. Rays fans are screaming for the Rays to trade B.J. Upton, but what do you think you can get for a guy hitting .223 with a reputation for not hustling all the time?
2. Fox needs to scrap the idea of an occasional game of the week in prime time. Baseball's game of the week is supposed to be on during the day. No exceptions.
3. Rays fans might hate that former Tampa Bay pitcher Edwin Jackson, above, threw a no-hitter Saturday, but you have to feel good for Jackson, who showed a lot of class during the 2008 playoffs when he wasn't on the Rays’ playoff roster. By the way, Jackson is scheduled to be on Marc Benarzyk’s drive-time radio show on 1040-AM Monday afternoon around 5:30.