Behind the Broadcast: Fox puts European soccer in spotlight today

While most soccer fans are getting excited about the World Cup next month, there is another major to

While most soccer fans are getting excited about the World Cup next month, there is another major tournament that will get some attention today

For the first time in the 55-year history of the event, the UEFA Champions League final will be tel­evised on an over-the-air network. Fox Sports will have the match between Inter Milan and Bayern Munich from Madrid, and it will be seen in the Capital Region on WXXA (Ch. 23) and WXXA HD.

Fox is treating this like the Super Bowl. Fox Soccer Channel will have a 90-minute pregame show, starting at 1 p.m. Fox Sports will come on the air at 2:30 p.m. with a 15-minute pregame show. Curt Menefee, co-host of “Fox NFL Sunday,” will host.

This is the first year that Fox and its soccer channel have covered the UEFA Champions League. Prev­iously, ESPN had the rights.

Also, the championship match was normally played on a weekday.

“What we’ve discovered with Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Soccer Plus has been an incredible eye-opener,” Fox Sports chairman David Hill said on a conference call Wednesday. “The American aud­ience keeps building. It became a no-brainer that this game deserves a place on the network. Obviously, being on a Saturday afternoon is perfect for us; it doesn’t force us to replace prime time [programming].”

Menefee is looking forward to watching the final. He will treat his role like he does on “Fox NFL Sunday,” but also knows there will be fans tuning in that may not know much about the UEFA Champions League. Menefee will be joined on the pregame show by Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena and Eric Wynalda, the second-leading scorer all-time for the U.S. men’s soccer team and a Fox Soccer Channel host.

“The four guys I sit with now [on ‘Fox NFL Sunday’], they’re the NFL experts,” Menefee said. “I’m a fan, and I know football, so I can ask the right questions, put things into proper perspective and maybe clear things up. It’s the same thing with this. I’m a soccer fan, and the guys that I work with are the soccer experts. I can ask the right questions, and maybe clear some things up, things maybe a little bit different than the NFL. You automatically assume that everybody watching is an NFL fan, and they like the sport itself.

“I think we’re going to get a lot of people that are soccer fans tuning into us, but there’s also going to be people who flip around [the dial] and see 75,000 people in an electric atmosphere and say, ‘What’s this? Let me watch it.’ Maybe some of the things that I will do that you wouldn’t normally do if you did an NFL broadcast to try and clear things up for people that aren’t big-time fans is to try quickly equate some of the things to what they consider American sports.”

Martin Tyler will call the play-by-play, and Andy Gray is the anal­yst.

Soccer interviews

While we are talking soccer, ESPN announced this week that it will use video conferencing to interview coaches and athletes from the most remote World Cup sites in South Africa.

That will allow ESPN to produce more reports on off days from two far-flung cities, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, as part of its expanded World Cup coverage instead of being limited by using expensive satellite trucks.

Eight of the 10 venues for the tournament are clustered loosely around Johannesburg in the country’s northeast, while Port Elizabeth and Cape Town are on the southern and southwest coast.

Preakness rating

NBC’s Preakness Stakes broadcast last Saturday earned a 6.4 overnight rating and 15 share, a 19 percent drop over last year’s 7.9/18.

Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky and Kentucky Derby champion Super Saver are not racing in the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, in two weeks. I can only imagine that ABC, which is televising the Belmont Stakes, isn’t too thrilled it won’t have an attractive race to televise.

NHL ratings

Versus’ ratings for the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs conference semi­finals are on the rise.

The cable network announced it averaged a 1.0 rating and 1.041 million viewers, making it cable’s most-watched second round on record. The average viewership surpasses the entire second round cable average of all prior playoff seasons through 1994, which is when Nielsen began keeping track for cable.

The second-round rating is up 25 percent from last year’s .8, and viewership is up 28 percent from last year’s 816,000.

Star for Berman

ESPN’s Chris Berman, who recently signed a long-term deal to stay with the cable network, will get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Monday.

“A star on Hollywood Boulevard is an iconic honor that has literally blown me away,” Berman said in a statement. “It speaks to 30 years of hard work for thousands of ESPN employees, and I am proud to represent each and every one of them. I can assure you that this will be the only time that my name will be in a sentence with the likes of Clark Gable and John Wayne.”

Parting shots

NBC has Game 4 of the NHL Stanley Cup Eastern Conference final between the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens today at 3 p.m. At 3 p.m. Sunday, it will have Game 4 of the Western Conference final between the San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks. The games will be on WNYT (Ch. 13) and WNYT HD. . . .

Fox Sports televises the Yankees-Mets Subway Series tonight at 7. ESPN and ESPN HD televises the game at 8 p.m. Sunday. . . .

Versus and Versus HD televises the Indianapolis 500 qualifying at 11 a.m. today and noon Sunday. . . .

The French Open starts Sunday. The Tennis Channel and Tennis Channel HD begins its coverage at 5 a.m., and ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD begins at noon.

Categories: Sports

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