Euro 2012 a Hit for TSN

Soccer is a sport ridiculed by many sports fans in North America. Left to a 30 second highlight package on sports highlights shows. A small two paragraph column in the local newspaper. However, it seems in the last four years this is beginning to change in Canada. More and more soccer, especially of the European variety, is becoming a mainstream sport. Now sports highlights shows are leading with soccer highlights, albeit partly for promotion in TSN’s case. Twitter is abuzz with Canadians of English, Italian, Irish, German backgrounds (as well as others) cheering on their teams. Even those who compete in, or cover, other sports for a living are watching.

No number is more telling that one sent to me by TSN last week. Average audiences for the group stage of Euro 2012 are up 154% over the group stage for Euro 2008. That is nothing short of spectacular. Although not entirely unexpected considering CBC’s 2010 World Cup ratings. The final for the 2010 World Cup between Spain and Holland cracked the 5 million viewers barrier. That’s a mark that usually only hockey, the Grey Cup and the Super Bowl hit. Yet soccer did it and the most well supported teams like Italy and England weren’t even playing. Many other games in 2010 buzzed around the 2 million mark.

While the audiences for Euro 2012 aren’t that high (yet), something has to be said for 731, 000 Canadians tuning in on a Friday afternoon to watch England beat Sweden. In fact the three England group stage matches, all on weekdays, averaged 705, 000 viewers. Euro 2012 ratings are consistently beating the Blue Jays on Sportsnet, despite the Jays playing in primetime. The knockout stages will probably post ratings at least equal to the opening weekend of the CFL season. Some early afternoon Euro games have even outnumbered the viewers who watched NHL playoffs on CBC in a similar timeslot a few weeks earlier. Of course nobody is saying soccer is more popular than hockey or football, or even baseball, in Canada. But it is right there. For one month it is just as big.

And with yesterday’s penalties thriller between England and Italy (maybe the two most popular European national teams in Canada), ratings will likely rise again for the quarterfinals. Italy vs. England should hit an average of 1.5 million viewers easily. Maybe more. And the semifinals? Could they crack a million viewers on a weekday? Considering the teams that are playing (Portugal, Spain, Germany and Italy), I think it is very possible.

TSN’s coverage of the tournament is more or less exactly what we expect from a Canadian network (whether it be TSN, Sportsnet or CBC) for a major international soccer tournament. While the faces are different than for Euro 2008, TSN has more or less followed CBC’s 2010 World Cup formula. The network’s top soccer host (Scott Russell for CBC, Luke Wileman for TSN), their top analyst (Jason de Vos for both networks) and a random British pundit (John Collins for CBC, Darren Anderton for TSN).

Some readers have complained that de Vos hasn’t played at a high enough level to provide proper analysis on a European Championship. I disagree. de Vos knows tactics inside and out. His halftime segment is among the highlights of TSN’s broadcast in my opinion. Many of the best analysts in sports weren’t the best. de Vos is especially critical, maybe too critical, of poor defense though. However, just because de Vos wasn’t as good a defender as Florent Malouda doesn’t mean he can’t criticise Malouda for poor defensive play. That’s the job of an analyst. It is no different than Darren Pang criticizing a top NHL goaltender.

My bigger problem is with Anderton. It isn’t that he’s a bad analyst. Or even that he’s wrong. He just doesn’t stand out, at all. I asked the question before the tournament and I will reiterate it now. Why Anderton? There are hundreds of English (or Scottish or Irish) football players who are now retired on work on TV in Britain. Why did TSN choose Anderton of all people? Surely someone who has actually worked in the TV industry before was available. And as one reader mentioned, why not bring in Aron Winter? Sure he would have been a last-minute choice as he was fired by Toronto FC days before Euro 2012 began. But he would make a great guest analyst. I don’t dislike Anderton, but he’s just boring. The same can be said for many ITV and BBC pundits though.

Luke Wileman is an exceptional host. While I prefer CBC’s Russell, this is one thing TSN really did get right. Vic Rauter was a serviceable host of international soccer for a number of years, but he doesn’t have the soccer knowledge Wileman does. My only issue with Wileman, and the TSN panel as a whole, is they discuss the same issue too much. It seems by the time Euro 2012 Tonight has aired everything has been said two or three times. However, the last-minute comments from the panel before kickoff are great. I’ve skipped most pregame shows because those comments are all I need.

There is one very bright spot in TSN’s coverage and he isn’t on TV nearly enough. I’m talking about Nabil Karim, who is actually in Poland and Ukraine “reporting” on the tournament for TSN. I put reporting in quotes because it seems TSN hasn’t given him ample airtime to report on the tournament. They should use him for pregame hits, postgame interviews (if possible) and off-field pieces. Surely a licensed rightsholder like TSN could score an interview with an England player (or any other player who speaks English) to show during their pregame show.

Speaking of reporters, I would really like to see postmatch interviews. It may be impossible for TSN to do these themselves (even with Karim on-site); however, even BBC or ITV interviews would be an improvement over nothing. Sportsnet will occasionally show Sky Sports’ interviews after Champions League matches. TSN should do the same for Euro 2012.

Last, but not least, is the one thing that actually drives me crazy about TSN’s Euro 2012 coverage. The international feed commentators. Well actually it is just one commentator. John Helm. On Sunday Helm misidentified Joe Hart, Mario Balotelli and Joleon Lescott as teammates at Manchester United. Many reading this column know the trio play for United’s rivals on the blue side of Manchester. He did correctly say Manchester City twice later in the match, but it doesn’t make up for such a glaring mistake.

Awkward, boring, delivery aside, this has been a horrible tournament for Helm. And today proved why he shouldn’t be anywhere near the microphone for worldwide audiences. He tends to provide viewers with useless facts, such as birthdays (did you know Jordan Henderson turned 22 one week ago?). Or marriages (by the way, turns out Federico Balzaretti’s wife is actually a ballerina, not a model). He also explained how extra time and penalties work in the 22nd minute. Much, much too early to discuss such matters. He misidentified players, said a free kick was a caution and made many, many other mistakes throughout the 120+ minutes of play.

For these reasons, I think TSN should use ESPN’s commentary with Ian Darke and Steve McMannaman for next Sunday’s final (which Helm is also scheduled to call). Canadians hear Darke and Macca every Saturday morning on TSN2. They are familiar voices who don’t tend to get a lot of criticism. Sportsnet uses Sky commentary for Champions League because it is superior. TSN should do the same for Euro 2012.

Dave Woods and Steve Bower have both been up to par for the international feed though. Both bring excitement to the game. This is something that is difficult to do without a co-commentator. I still can’t understand why international commentary feeds for Euro and the World Cup don’t use co-commentators though. They are just as plentiful as main commentators and usually make the broadcast more enjoyable. The Premier League and Champions League finals use them. As do all the major networks in Great Britain.

TSN’s Euro 2012 coverage probably could be a bit better. But based on past tournaments, it could also be a lot worse. I haven’t found myself wanting to watch BBC and ITV coverage online, which is a good sign.

21 thoughts on “Euro 2012 a Hit for TSN

  1. I must say that the coverage of Euro 2012 on TSN this year has been very good. While I don’t watch the EPL or Serie A, I enjoy watching the Euro & World Cup Tournaments. With the ratings that some of the Euro 2012 games have gotten in this country, it is definitely awesome that soccer is making significant inroads here in Canada. Along that line, something I would like to do next year during the summer months is make my way down to one of the sports bars in the downtown core of Ottawa and take in some qualifying matches in anticipation of the 2014 World Cup.

  2. I’ve been watching a mix of TSN/ESPN/BBC coverage, mostly leaning towards the latter two. They all have good and bad points. My main reason for avoiding TSN is due to their use of the international feed and their woeful commentators, not that some of ESPN’s are the best either. Also, TSN putting their big-ass scorebug right in the centre of the picture annoys me compared you see the smaller ones of ESPN/BBC off to the side.

    And ESPN show post-game interviews, so how hard can it be for TSN to mooch those and show them?

  3. Good analysis. In addition, not only did Helm misidentify Lescott, Balotelli and Hart as Man U teammates before the start when running down the lineups, he also repeated the gaffe later in the game on 78 minutes when Hart punched the ball away from Balotelli’s head.

    Sure, it is hard to talk ad-lib non-stop as a sole commentator for two hours, but when isolated slips of the tongue become a repeated pattern it is time to change the commentator.

    Just as there is a time when someone needs to tell your favourite uncle it’s time to stop driving a car, someone needs to come alongside John Helm and wish him all the very best in his retirement and to stop the international freelancing.

    I second the call for Darke/McManaman for the final.

  4. I agree that deVos is very well-spoken when talking tactics and as in other major sports, the players who were not “world-class” sometimes become the best analysts.

    I think you are selling Anderton a bit short. Yes, he does take some getting used to, but at least he gives SOME commentary, which is more than can be said for Michael Ballack on ESPN!! I just wish Ballack would just pound Lalas already and be done with it!! That would surely be more exciting than his boring comments!

    I agree that TSN should stop using the feed with Helm. Get Martin Tyler and Andy Gray together!!

    Any one of the BBC or ESPN feeds for the Final would be better!

    • Yeah, I’ve heard Ballack is terrible. Haven’t seen him yet though. Kinda proves the world class players aren’t always great analysts point you made.

      Martin Tyler is doing the final (and other games) for Australia TV. Even Al Jazeera in the Middle East has borrowed a few commentators from Sky to call the knockout matches for them. Lots of other options than the international feed out there.

  5. John Helm is like the Bob Cole of international football – great pedigree but way past retirement age. I can understand him doing some group matches but why is he still considered for the prime matches.

    Not much of a hurdle but de Vos is emerging as the best Cdn footy analyst we have seen. He isn’t afraid to be critical and provides analysis beond the usual fluff. Lot of North Americans think of soccer at only 1 level – the type they see their kids play and Cdns often see it through the prism of hockey. De Vos analysis show the unwashed masses what they aren’t seeing.

    It has improved but one aspect of mainstream Cdn coverage lacking is what int football is all about – the passion. At least they have Karim in Poland/Ukraine but we barely see him and most of it is stand up reports rather than showing the sights & sounds pre and post match. This type of coverage can only still be found on the footy only channels.

  6. Have you seen Winter being interviewed? He keeps it short and his English isn’t clear.

  7. I think the Euro 2012 is excellent, I’ve enjoyed everything about it. First if all games are broadcast live and HD and quality I’m happy. I think the analysts are doing a fine job, and similar to CBC I think they did a fine job as well for World Cup. Both being good, and I’ve enjoyed them. I think the commentary for the games are fine, sure I watch EPL and Champions League and the European Commentators are always as there best and enjoy it a lot, I got to say this Helm guy, I really am fine with him, I’ve being fine with whoever has done Euro’s. Any higher class European commentator is great and better then most North American one. I think everything always can be better, from different analysts and commentators, but everything is fine and enjoying it right now. I think its good and I’m happy. I’m liking the broadcasting in Canada with Soccer(football), TSN doing good on Euro’s, and Sports net doing great job with Champions League and EPL, really good. I like it, and everything can be better, but we can’t complain too much.

  8. I agree with you about de Vos and Anderton, but de Vos was a much better defender than Malouda otherwise he wouldn’t have had a job at top teams in the second level of English football. Malouda is a winger.

    • Malouda is a winger, but he did need to track back. De Vos’ defensive analysis of the move was accurate.

      • I wasn’t making a point about de Vos’s analysis just the post’s comparison of the two as players.

        Whether or not Malouda should have followed Alonso depends on France’s defensive scheme. The defense was not outnumbered and Clichy could have challenged Alonso. Perhaps if Malouda had been close to Alonso the goal could have been prevented, but that’s a different issue than whether or not Malouda “should” have tracked him.

  9. I hate when Sportsnet uses the Sky commentators for the Champions League broadcasts as they have such an overwhelming British bias. Canadians are not cheering solely for England. Canadians are cheering for many different teams in this tournement. Thus the world feed makes more sense. Even the ESPN commentators seem to dumb the game down for the American audience a bit too much for my liking.

    • I haven’t heard a whole lot about American commentators “dumbing down” the game for this tournament. Certainly not any worse than Helm explaining extra time and penalties in the 20th minute. Macca has used “we” when referring to England a lot though.

      England only played in four games. Yes the commentary can be biased. But for 90% of the tournament England aren’t playing anyway. Some are really bad for cheering England and English teams (Clive Tyldesley and Gary Neville) while others aren’t (Martin Tyler for example).

  10. I’ve been switching in-between ESPN and TSN’s coverages and they both have their plus and minuses. ESPN scored a big one when they landed Michael Ballack as a studio analyst, he’s played with many of the players in the tournament and of course has major international experience. I think CBC and TSN should take note that you don’t have to find an analyst from the British Isles. Many overseas players that have played in the EPL have perfectly acceptable, if not fluent English. Ballack has a pretty thick German accent, but his points still come across very clearly. Their other panelists are a bit so-so. Not a fan of Alexi Lalas’ analysis, seems to be a bit unnecessarily argumentative. And Bob Ley, the host, falls into the Vic Rauter category of being noticeably uneducated in soccer. On occasion they use Rebecca Lowe or Max Bretos, who for years was the voice of FOX Soccer Channel, and they are both leaps and bounds better than Ley. ESPN also has the advantage of using their own commentators and Darke/Macca is a great combination. But the best thing about it is that there is some banter. The problem with the worldwide feed is that it’s only one guy commentating and it can become very boring. (I watched the Italy/England game on ESPN, so I can’t comment on Helm’s performance.) It’s precisely because of the commentators that I find myself choosing ESPN over TSN. TSN has done a good job with their studio team and I totally agree that Nabil Karim is doing a great job, though he should be getting more airtime.

    The only thing I’m hoping for is that somehow a Bell Media executive decides to put the final on CTV. I’m going up to a friend’s cottage for the weekend and he only has an antenna setup!

  11. I just mute the TV when I watch a match that Helm is commentating on. I was sick of him at the 2010 World Cup, and I’m sick of him now. All the other commentators I have absolutely no problem with. Dave Woods is probably my favorite. He had to fill 30 minutes of a rain delay between the France vs. Ukraine and did an awesome job before TSN went to some US Open coverage. Tony Jones and Steve Bower have been good as well, no complaints whatsoever. Helm is 70. Time to retire.

  12. I hope through Euro 2012, doors will open for an increase of covering Soccer events, such as Primera Division, Bundesliga, Europa League or WC 2014 Qualifications. And not only Champions League, Premier League or MLS. I sometimes find it ridiculous that the most-watched sport on earth is covered with an 30sec. report. Canada has way more registered players in soccer than hockey. And I don’t think its because of the cheaper equipment, its more because of the passion and desire for this sport. So why does the media not covering more about this Sport? 1993 was the last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup, so please let’s try a new kind of sport.

  13. espn’s game announcers have really improved as they have kicked out all Americans other than for US matches and some WC matches. Their studio analysis is crap because it is dumbed down due in part to inexperienced hosts in the sport, an American analyst who seems to want to entertain rather than provide analysis and the foreign anlayst who has star power but isn’t often very articulate within the strictly defined parameters of a US studio show.

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