ESPN’s dishonest tap-dance

The network refuses to play it straight with Euro 2008 viewers about its announcers not being at the stadium.

Topics: Paul Shirley, ESPN,

ESPN lost the video feed from Germany’s 3-2 win over Turkey in a Euro 2008 semifinal on three different occasions Wednesday, and its response was less than straightforward.

Each time the picture went out — the last was moments after Germany’s Philip Lahm scored the game-winner in the 90th minute — game announcers Derek Rae and Andy Gray quickly threw the broadcast back to the studio, where Rece Davis, Julie Foudy and Tommy Smyth tap-danced until the feed was restored.

Davis was quick to point out that the problem was lightning strikes in Switzerland, where the match was being played, and that broadcasters all over the world had lost the feed.

In other words: Don’t blame ESPN! This isn’t our fault!

Fair enough. But why didn’t Rae and Gray stay on the air and describe the action, radio style? The answer was obvious if you were paying close attention when the video went black: The ambient sound went out too, though Rae and Gray could still be heard. They were sitting in a studio in Connecticut.



Davis should have made that clear. He should have pointed out that ESPN had no way to convey the action because it had chosen to keep its announcers stateside rather than have them at the events. Instead, the four-letter left viewers wondering why the capable Rae and Gray couldn’t have continued doing play-by-play and color as two goals were scored, one by each side.

A little transparency goes a long way. ESPN appeared to be ashamed of its decision, which leads to the obvious conclusion: If the network doesn’t want to admit its announcers are thousands of miles away from the game, maybe they shouldn’t be.

On the last blackout, after Lahm’s goal, as ESPN broadcast pictures of fans milling around outside the stadium, Rae let the truth slip. “We, like you watching, have no idea what’s going on,” he said.

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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