Each week, SI.com's Richard Deitsch will report on newsmakers from the world of TV, radio and the Web.
Martin Tyler has attended every World Cup final since 1978, which makes the broadcaster unique among all the on-air talent who work for ESPN. While the name might not be familiar to casual American sports fans, Tyler is a broadcasting icon within the international soccer community. He was voted the FA Premier League Commentator of the Decade in 2003 and has been announcing soccer matches with brio for the past two decades as one of the chief football commentators for Sky Sports.
The announcement that Tyler will serve as ESPN's lead play-by-play voice for its coverage of the FIFA 2010 World Cup is a major coup, and his hire represents a huge evolution of the network's soccer production. Four years ago, ESPN pushed baseball announcer Dave O'Brien into an impossible position when it had him work with MarceloBalboa as the lead team. Calling soccer matches at the global level is a difficult assignment for even a seasoned announcer, and O'Brien quickly learned that diehard fans are particular about what they want. O'Brien told USA Today in 2006 that "there's kind of a petulant little clique of soccer fans. There's not many of them, but they're mean-spirited. ... And they're not really the audience we want to reach anyway."
Of course, that's exactly the audience you want to reach, because ESPN has long stated it wants every kind of audience.
"I think I've been acquired for what I am and not what I might become," Tyler told SI.com. "The thing that I'd liken it to is what we have in reverse over here. We wouldn't put UK-based commentary on the NBA or NFL. The description of an American sport comes from American voices, and I think maybe those who have made the decision about me would like to get, if you like, a more global feel to what is a global game. Of course, the words are only incidental to the pictures in television. But you can help by pushing the odd phrase in the right direction."
Tyler has worked for the London-based Sky Sports network since its launch in 1991 and has called many of the Premier League's biggest matches. Since Sky does not own broadcast rights to the World Cup, Tyler has often contracted with other networks, including calling the last five World Cups for SBS Australia. (Here is Tyler calling one of the all-time great World Cup goals, a sublime strike by Argentina's Esteban Cambiasso during the 2006 World Cup.)
What can U.S. viewers expect from Tyler?
"First, I will try to identify the players correctly for them," he said. "I will try to give relevant information at the right time about the players so that they will be more informed, and along with my co-commentator, I will try to interpret the events in the context of a particular match. Of course, I will also try to put into context the history of game. You expect the very high standards of the players at the World Cup, and I expect to be judged by the very high standards of the American audience."
Tyler said ESPN is considering having him call the U.S. team's games in South Africa, though much will depend on the World Cup draw on Dec. 4. No matter which group Tyler ends up calling, U.S. viewers are the big winner here. His hire is the equivalent of the D.C. United franchise acquiring Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, and makes it more than likely that soccer diehards (such as yours truly) won't be so quick to change the channel to Telemundo come next June.
• Having spent last year on the campus of the University of Michigan for a journalism fellowship, and having worked as a student journalist many moons ago, I'm well aware of the pressure athletic departments can foist on student newspapers, whether that pressure is overt or subtle. So props to the student journalists at the University of Montana Kaimin newspaper for reporting on the alleged assault by two Grizzy football players. That is what newspapers do. As reported by The Missoulian newspaper, Montana coach Bobby Hauck has since taken to publicly belittling student reporters at weekly news conferences, and followed through with an earlier threat of shutting the students out of interviews. That's nothing more than an intimidation play and it's a sorry strategy as old as time. The Montana administration should put an end to that kind of nonsense ASAP.
• If you find yourself trapped in the car on Sunday night or simply want a different feel from the NBC Sunday Night Football broadcast, I'd highly recommend the Westwood One radio team of Dave Sims and James Lofton. I listened to the radio call of the second quarter of the Falcons-Bears game and was impressed with the duo's preparation and professionalism.
• Last week's entertaining reunion of radio hosts MikeFrancesa and Chris Russo -- the popular duo of the Mike and the Mad Dog Show that ran for 19 years on WFAN -- proved yet again that the sum of this union was always stronger than the individual parts. The breakup, fueled by animosity, ego and money, made each man richer, but neither of the current solo acts possesses the same magic as the old show.
• This column has praised NBC's Tom Hammond in the past -- especially for his horse racing work -- but it felt like he was waving the Notre Dame pom poms a little too hard last week by calling Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen the best quarterback in the country before Notre Dame's loss to USC. In hyping the game, Hammond said, "[It's] the best defense in the country [USC] that hasn't given up a touchdown pass all season against the best quarterback in the country and an offense that has proven it can score some points."
• It's always fun to focus on the ridiculous and hyperbolic musings of the NFL Network's Michael Irvin. Before the Giants' 21-point loss to New Orleans, Irvin declared that this Giants team "is better than the New York Giants team that won the Super Bowl" and "this is the next team that we use the word dynasty around."
"Jim, you are not a head coach in the NFL. High school? Definitely. You can coach in high school, you can coach my son in high school anytime. Ankle-biters [youth football teams, we guess] for sure. You're a very compassionate guy. You are almost still, 'Gee whiz, aw-shucks,' and you are 21 games into your career. You come out of these games, these crippling and mind-boggling losses, and if I didn't know better, you could almost think that you won the game."-- Former Redskins running back John Riggins, who posted this YouTube evisceration of Redskins coach Jim Zorn and vice president Vinny Cerrato on his Twitter page.
• "NBC announcers saying that Notre Dame is closing the gap with college football's elite. Ugh. Also are touting Clausen for Heisman. Lame."-- New York Timessports reporter Pete Thamel, Oct. 17, 7:28 p.m.
• "Verne Lundquist, I'll give you $500 if you say, 'Tackle by Dustin Doe of the Gators. You might know his brother, Dill.' "-- ESPN sports columnist Bill Simmons, boldly pushing the envelope on his company's Twitter policy, Oct. 17, 6:46 p.m.
• "The other night my wife ate at the Four Seasons in Houston while I ate at Five Guys in Mooresville. So I won 5-4."-- Sports Business Journal assistant managing editor Rob Knapp, Oct. 16, 10:05 a.m.