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Why US football fans are watching Spanish-speaking TV commentators go gaga over goals.

Michael Kelly

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Topics Politics

Many US football fans are torn when it comes to watching the World Cup – between Spanish-language Univision or the sports cable channel ESPN.

Surprisingly, Univision is winning hands down. Ireland’s first game against Cameroon was only shown live on Univision, so I (Irishman in America) was introduced to their coverage early in the tournament. I’ve stayed with them since.

The third way for football fans is to watch the World Cup on ABC, a network available throughout the USA, which has done a deal with ESPN to show a handful of games. But after showing the Ireland/Spain game on tape delay, five hours after Ireland had lost on penalties, ABC lost my vote. We’ll all have to watch the final on ABC, which has snapped up the rights to that game.

In the battle of the stations, Univision is winning on viewing figures: 4.2million have watched on Univision, compared to ESPN’s 2.9million. Like me, many viewers probably have little idea what the Spanish-speaking commentators are saying (I asked a friend what ‘pelota’ meant, as the commentators seemed to say it a lot. ‘Ball’, he replied, witheringly). But the Univision commentators at least manage to convey excitement and drama, unlike ESPN’s dry descriptions of the action and constant reminders of what great TV shows are coming up later in the day.

The choice between Univision and ESPN is a like choosing between watching a game in a bar with 150 fanatical fans and watching a game with your dozing mother. No contest.

Univision’s picture is also sharper and more realistic. ESPN’s picture looks like it comes straight out of a computer graphics studio, complete with fading colours and fancy images. They even compress the screen size so they can run last night’s baseball scores underneath the footballing action.

Univision also shows the games live – like, really live, with images direct from the satellite. ESPN, by contrast, delays its feed by seven seconds so they can add on-screen graphics. Sometimes, this delay can be helpful – I’ve used it a few times to try to find out what the hell some refereeing decision was about. But Univision commentators have much more feel for the game and know what is going on, where the ESPN commentators sometimes miss the most blatantly obvious things – a bit like some of the referees.

Even ESPN’s sports round-up show, Sports Center, often uses Univision coverage when describing the day’s events, rather than their own pictures that they have spent millions acquiring. No wonder most football fans are choosing to watch Spanish commentators go gaga over goals.

Read on:

spiked-issue: Sport

World Cup – the new political football, by Mick Hume

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Topics Politics

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