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Doop on the dial: What to make of the Union radio deal

Late Thursday, the Philadelphia Union announced that SportsRadio 610 WIP would broadcast 17 of the team’s 2012 matches live on the radio. Those of you who read the match previews will note that this is something PSP has been pushing for as strongly as passive aggression allows.

The details are not all in, but here is what we know:

  • 17 games will be broadcast on WIP
  • They may be home games, they may be away games. They may even be board games (I hope I’m kidding)
  • 610 WIP will feature a 1-hour Union-centered radio show during the season
  • Radio broadcasts can be heard on 610AM, on www.cbsphilly.com (home of The Philly Soccer Show, a… weekly one-hour Union-centered podcast held during the season. You know, in case you’re looking for on-air talent), and through the Radio.com app

Will the traditionalists accept it? 

This is a big deal. American sports talk radio is a place for intelligent and insightful commentary on tactical issues from Why Andy Reid Sucks to Why Andy Reid Should Be Fired (usual answer: ‘Cause he sucks).

Soccer has traditionally been persona non grata on American sports talk airwaves. Whether a partnership with the Union makes sports talk radio any more accepting of soccer is doubtful. But getting involved in radio is a rite of passage for a MLS franchise, and the Union have been shut out for too long.

You’ve heard it’s significant… and that’s about all

Most news outlets agree that this is significant news. But why?

A big part of it is image. While it looks a bit lame to be without a radio deal, let’s be clear: The Union were doing fine without one. Bimbo signed on as a top tier sponsor this season, fan support keeps PPL at capacity, and Comcast’s weekly TV show offers exposure on a channel that holds sway on a lot of the Philadelphia sports scene.

Having a radio deal is a sign of acceptance in the sports landscape. It not only puts you closer to the ears of many of the city’s most hardcore sports fans, but it puts you closer to handshakes and signatures with many of the region’s most prominent sports advertisers.

Seventeen is both fantastic and only seventeen

Getting 17 matches on the air is a coup, but a bit of a disappointing one. After all, the Union will be counter-programming against Phillies games on most nights, which means ratings expectations cannot be that high. Making radio availability an on-again-off-again thing means there will not be consistent radio for those who could not get the games on television. Thus, any broadening of the fan base through radio will have to be done on a staccato basis, which means probably not at all. In fact, the top shelf, number one, best part of this announcement may be the Radio.com app availability. Hopefully, this means that when you are out of state or driving long distances, you can still catch a Union match.

By limiting the number of broadcasts to seventeen, WIP is probably saying, ‘Hey, you are welcome on our airwaves, but if the Flyers and 76ers (apparently a franchise of the mythical NBA) have games on the same night, no can do.

Looking for that new sound

Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty: The broadcast itself. Will it be radio-specific announcers or a simulcast of the television team? Cross your fingers and toes, rub your lucky rabbit’s foot, throw salt of your shoulder and hopehopehope that the radio broadcasts are specific to the medium. Soccer on the radio is already a foreign concept to most Americans. Radio broadcasts of sports like baseball hold a nostalgic place in the hearts of American sports fans. Everyone has heard a great radio call from an cherished voice. Until recently the Phillies themselves were home to one of the game’s most famous voices.

The point is this: If you closed your eyes and listen to the Union television broadcast, you would not think much was going on on the field. At times, it sounds like two genial fellows talking about David Beckham soccer players they like and dislike while one of them occasionally calls out a name from the roster at random. “And he said this week that he liked how they played, and I agree with him… (pause)… Mapp! Ooh. Valdes. Williams. He has been so valuable this year… (pause) Torres wins a corner.”

This isn’t to meant to criticize. It is meant to highlight how certain styles of announcing do not translate very well to a format that doesn’t include video. Listening to JP Dellacamera and Taylor Twellman is a bit like being forced to purchase the audio guide at the museum. It’s often quite helpful, but if you listen to it the whole time you are walking around, you might have trouble paying attention to the art you came to see. In other words, it’s centered on a glossy informational banter fit for an audience that needs to go over the basics again each night. It’s a perfectly legitimate style. And love it or hate it, it works for television.

But not for radio.

Radio is good, and good radio is great

Some radio broadcasts abide by the banter formula. And it’s extremely annoying. Because guess what? You can’t see the game. In the internet age, hearing two guys discuss a manager’s comment that you read on ESPN two minutes after it came out while sporting action goes unannounced in the background amounts to a dereliction of duty.

Soccer is a beautiful game. It’s a cliche but it’s true. And while passes around the back may not seem exciting, they do have a purpose. The opposition is using high pressure, the three-man midfield isn’t finding space, or maybe the offense is just drawing the team in before releasing Le Toux over the top on the break and he’s in alone and coolly slots home from ten yards out! Torres is on his back! Mondragon has climbed into the stands to high five a child! The Houston defense has been broken and in exquisite fashion!

These great moments seem to come from nothing. And without a radio voice that vocalizes the tactical side of the game, they will seem to come from nothing. Getting the airspace is a massive first step. Bringing in talent that maximizes the medium’s potential is the next hurdle.

Philadelphia soccer fans have shown themselves to be energetic, intelligent, and interested in the intricacies of the sport they have wholeheartedly embraced. Let’s hope the Union radio team is the same way.

Will you listen to the Union on the radio? 

Have you listened to soccer on the radio in the past? What did you like/dislike?

8 Comments

  1. I can understand the issue of soccer being called on the radio, but really, is baseball that more exciting? “Ball One… *ten second pause* ball two…” is what I would imagine a baseball broadcast being if I was ignorant about baseball like most people are about soccer.

  2. It will be interesting to see who they pick for play-by-play and color. Rigby has a voice made for print journalism. I agree that I prefer different teams per medium. Because of the length of the MLS season it’s doubtful that someone from the other local sports team’s would join in. Carl Cherkin does the post game in the club, so he might be a candidate for play-by-play since he’s already affiliated.

  3. I don’t have any cable TV service at home, so yes, I’ll listen on the radio, just as I listen to the Phillies on the radio. However, on nights when both are playing, I’m listening to the Union!

  4. Subtle…

  5. I too, by choice, don’t have cable at home so, when i can’t see games live, at a friend’s home or online, i will Definitely listen! I listened to most of last year’s World Cup via ESPN Radio (online) while at work, at my desk and it was way better than nothing. For two years i’ve been saying to myself, “I wish i could at LEAST HEAR the [Union] game today!”. It will be nice to finally be able to 🙂

  6. ill listen and many times i’ve listened on sirius to premiere league games, and jp is an excellent radio play by play man during the last world cup he was teamed with tommy smythe on all team usa games that were broadcast..come to think of it i listened to the usa / japan womens cup final game on the beach this summer

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