Welcome to the Beijing Blog, where for the next two and a half weeks we will supplement our outstanding coverage from China by documenting the Stateside Olympic experience. The first entry comes from my couch, which, as it turns out, is a mere two miles or so from where the folks broadcasting the U.S.-Norway women's soccer game are.
By Mark Bechtel
Old friend Steve Rushin always used to joke about how ESPN's Champions League coverage was being done from a "broom closet in Bristol." It was good for a laugh, the mental image of Tommy Smyth sitting on an overturned mop bucket, watching Sparta Prague play Man U on a black-and-white with rabbit ears (on the TV, not Tommy). But sometimes broadcasting from a studio makes sense -- sending a crew to a foreign country for a game that's going to get pretty small ratings isn't money well spent.
ESPN went with Stateside crews at Euro 2008 earlier this summer and it worked well. But the U.S. didn't have a horse in the race (on account of us not being, you know, European). When we're talking about a game between, say, the Czech Republic and Portugal, the difference between Tommy Smyth in Vienna and Tommy Smyth in Bristol is not really noticeable. That said, I don't understand why NBC would spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the rights to the Olympics and then call games from New York. There's something to be gained from having a crew on the ground with the team, especially when the crew includes Brandi Chastain, a former player who is still tight with several team members and could certainly do a better job taking the temperature of the team in China than from Manhattan.
And there were moments in the broadcast that drew unwanted attention to the fact that the commentators were half a world away. When Lori Chalupny was taken off within the first 20 minutes, Chastain and JP Dellacamera could only say they didn't want to speculate that she might be hurt and then go on to speculate that she might be hurt. "I'm looking forward to finding out more what happened," Chastain said. You and me both, sister.
Other thoughts on the broadcast:
-- Good news if you live in NYC and have cable: We now get CNBC, which is going to have a lot of Olympic coverage, in HD, and we also get the NBC soccer channel and the NBC basketball channel in HD as well. Had I known that, I would have gotten up to watch Germany-Brazil, a rematch of the 2007 World Cup final. Kind of a good thing I didn't, though -- looked like a pretty uneventful game.
-- Getting up at the crack of dawn to watch the U.S. brought back fond memories of 2002, when the World Cup was in Korea and Japan and I slept an average of five hours a night for a month. The first U.S. game of that tournament saw Johnny O'Brien score a shocker against Portugal four minutes in. Couldn't help but feel a little deja vu when Norway banged home two goals in the first five minutes today.
-- Man, did I feel bad for Lori Chalupny. She's one of the most valuable players on the team; she can play just about anywhere and do just about anything. She got beat on the first Norwegian goal (though more of the blame should fall on Hope Solo, who was uncharacteristically indecisive coming out to get the cross) and got smacked in the head in the process.
-- Not having Abby Wambach obviously hurt. She's a lethal finisher, which the U.S. was missing. And when playing from behind it always helps to have a big player up top; it's a lot easier to hoof one forward and hope something good happens than to try to gradually pick apart a defense that's trying to protect a lead. I was a little surprised that Chastain and Dellacamera didn't make more of her absence.
-- Bad news from the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled that if clubs want to keep players out of the Olympics, they can. Which means no Lionel Messi for Argentina. That's bad news for everyone who doesn't have a rooting interest in Group A in the men's draw.
-- Best commercials: The Geico caveman with Billie Jean King, and the U.S. Olympic team AT&T spot that uses "The Crane Wife 3" by the Decemberists.
-- Finally, NBC just brought Chastain, whose hair is longer and darker than we're used to, into the studio with Marcelo Balboa. They could be twins. Except for the goatee. That's it for now. Happy watching...