Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Challenge To The Fort: Make The Broadcasts Better

On Tuesday's edition of In The Net, host, and Revolution announcer, Brad Feldman commented on some of the issues he faces while calling Revs games. One of the things he pointed out is that the American broadcasts typically have to provide much more commentary than they do in Europe because the atmosphere keeps the game compelling while the announcers let the game speak for itself.

Talking over the game is a pet peeve of mine and is shared by many American soccer fans who know the sport. We don't want to listen to someone droning on and on about a broad range of subjects from how bad someone is playing (Wynalda) to the flight time from London to Munich (O'Brien), all the while scoring opportunities are being created. The problem is if announcers limit their commentary to saying what player has the ball, there would be a lot of dead airtime due to the lack of atmosphere in the stadium.

During In The Net, Feldman gave credit to the Chicago fans who allowed him and his broadcast partner, Greg Lalas, to have more breaks in their running dialog due to the atmosphere they were creating. There has been some animosity between Revs and Fire fans since last season, but I'll give credit to Section 8 et al, they were out in full force on Saturday. I'm out of the area right now, so I watched the Chicago broadcast which also picked up some of the chants from the Revolution fans who made the trip, so kudos to them, too.

I thought Julie Foudy did a fine job filling in for Eric Wynalda on Saturday and Dave O'Brien wasn't spouting off superfluous facts every ten seconds. However, when they let the game call itself, all you could usually hear was a few plastic horns bellowing in the cold mountain air. I'm not saying the stadium wasn't electric by MLS standards for the opener, I'm just saying there wasn't enough constant singing and chanting from the supporters section.

So, in essence, it's up to the supporters at the stadium to provide the atmosphere which will enable the commentators to call the game like they should. ESPN Sports executives will quickly find ways to fill that empty airtime if we let them. Do we really need more sideline reports from Alan Hopkins while someone takes a shot on net? The same goes for FSC and the locals. I'm not too worried about Telefutura. They'll go nuts for 90 minutes if they were calling a foosball game.

I've mentioned Chicago, but DC United also does a great job in creating atmosphere. I won't go into the other teams, but I think their various groups know where they stand.

As for the Revolution, the supporters section at Gillette Stadium is known as "The Fort". The Fort has seen a resurgence in recent years. Once one of the top draws in MLS's first five years, the Revs saw a steady decline in fan turnout shorty thereafter. This was brought about through the scaling back of marketing and ticket giveaways as well as several other non-fan friendly measures. (This coincided with the league's future being questioned. Bob Kraft was one of three owners who saved MLS, but he lacks the resources the other two possess.) As a result, the numbers in the supporters section also dwindled. A good number of initial fans also left when they realized MLS wasn't up to the standard of play and went on watching their superior European sides.

Attendance has bottomed out and leveled off around 12-13k over the last four seasons (last year's mark was 11,700, but there were no double-headers to bump that number up to the typical level). However, during this time The Fort has grown in numbers and volume. The number of supporters from the Midnight Riders and Rev Army continue to build in large part due to the infectious nature of participating in the various songs and chants sung during the game.

This is a good thing, but there are several obstacles to overcome before we begin providing the kind of sound which will make the game more enjoyable for the TV viewer. First and foremost is overcoming the architectural handicaps of Gillette Stadium. The Fort is located in a huge open air NFL stadium which provides no roof or overhang to trap the sound. To make matters worse, the lower bowl isn't a closed loop and The Fort is right next to a large opening. This can be overcome, but it takes a lot more people in The Fort to generate a given volume level than at RFK or Bridgeview.

The other big obstacle is the fact that TV producers are apprehensive about placing a microphone anywhere near The Fort due to the obscene nature of some of our chants. Even when they mic'd us last season, the volume was lowered after the first "wings of a sparrow". This is controversial among some of us. Personally, I'm into swearing at games. For that reason, I'll be situated much higher up in The Fort than I was last season. I invite others to do the same. The worst thing that can happen is someone yelling out an F-bomb right into the microphone and then all sound being cutoff from our end of the stadium in future broadcasts.

This Saturday marks the first home game of the season. If you are a Revs fans, get to the game. If you want to participate, buy your tickets to section 143 and bring your voice. If you don't know any of the songs, I compiled a few of them along with their tunes here. In my opinion, the best way to participate is to be a part of one of the supporter groups, which have links in the right sidebar.

So get out to Gillette and have some fun supporting the Revs. The state of the US game will benefit from your fun.