overthinking the idiot box

June 13, 2005

Everything you ever wanted to know about sports on TV.

At The Buzzer
Bobby McMahon: Most Important Analyst Ever?

by Alan Bloom

Who exactly is "Expert Soccer Analyst" Bobby McMahon? Unlike so many sports pundits, his roots do not lie in his sport of expertise. Instead, McMahon curiously enough emerged from a background in management and journalism. Talking football (as in soccer) appears to have been somewhat of a recreational hobby that he and his thick Scottish accent have transformed into a profession. Though his credentials on television may be taken for granted, McMahon enjoys a prophet-like aura of complete respect on Fox Sports World Report, where every night his opinion is treated as definitive. And why not? An overwhelming percentage of the time, his speculation is validated on the field.

McMahon is a competent, comprehensive analyst, to be sure, but he's the only one Fox Sports World Report has. Just him! He's it! Every other show of this variety that can be seen on networks like ESPN or even Fox Sports Net (as opposed to Fox Soccer Channel, where the program airs) uses a cavalcade of analysts. ESPN, for example, has NBA Tonight, which features several analysts anchored by one host, who is more than willing to chime in with their opinion amid the lively discussion now and again. Not only are there a bevy of pundits (Greg Anthony, Tim Legler, Stephen A. Smith, etc.), but they're a lively bunch at that. This is in sharp contrast to the FSWR, which will put McMahon's brain to work while two incredibly vanilla anchors look on in relative silence, save for the occasional joke. The banter amongst the three is not offensive, but definitely detracts from the production value of the show.

One guy. Covering soccer the world over, both at international and club levels. One incredibly knowledgeable Scottish guy. The week following the conclusion of the big six European domestic leagues (England, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Netherlands) and Scotland, Fox Sports World Report featured a wrap-up show wherein the two bland co-hosts threw the spotlight over to McMahon to summarize, analyze, and speculate on what has, is, and will transpire in each league in full detail. To watch a talking head critique non-stop for a half hour is...it just doesn't happen. Anyone who watches sports analysis shows knows this to be completely unheard of, bordering on the realm of ludicrous. But there was Bobby, firing away on each league's players, coaches, champions, disappointments, finances, and future prospects, gasping for air and a glass of water all the way. Well, at least fifteen minutes in.

The anchors fire him the questions to get started on each topic, sure, but how effective are such general queries as, "So Bobby, what can you tell us about the Italian Serie A this year? Any surprises?" McMahon can take those generic inquiries and run, run like the wind through the Scottish Highlands. The anchors, most often in the form of Michelle Lissel and Jeremy St. Louis, are American and that's okay (really). However, when they defer so often and readily to McMahon, they themselves seem to come off as more amateurish and ill-informed about the soccer world than is perhaps intended. Now, that may be because of the cheap set design or the fact that they're clearly reading off of teleprompters, but none of the anchors offer any sort of flare or excitement for McMahon to play off of. Not that Bobby necessarily needs it, but one gets the distinct impression that he is the only one on the show who knows what is going on in soccer — not only because he is so sharp and thorough, but also because his fellow on-air talent seem a bit out of their depth. It's almost as if they, like McMahon, just sort of fell into broadcasting, the only difference being that McMahon actually follows the topic for which he was hired to provide expertise for.

But let's not forget that the parent company of all Fox networks is NewsCorp. I don't think old Rupert is really pressed for cash these days. Bobby McMahon is the one star Fox Soccer Channel has. Of course, by "star" I do mean "bright spot of commentary."
As I mentioned earlier, the production value of the show may be at the heart of the credibility Episode . Fox Soccer Channel likely does not have the budget to feature three or more soccer analysts, thus forcing them to work McMahon overtime. But let's not forget that the parent company of all Fox networks is NewsCorp. I don't think old Rupert is really pressed for cash these days. Bobby McMahon is the one star Fox Soccer Channel has. Of course, by "star" I do mean "bright spot of commentary." I suppose the alternative on the network would be to suffer through the inane yammerings of the self-important Max Bretos, who far too often tends to embellish any and all ramblings to the point where the topic becomes more about what a big show he is putting on rather than featured games, scores, or highlights.

So who is with me in writing a letter to dear Mr. Rupert Murdoch asking for him to kick in a little more dough towards Fox Sports World Report? I guess the point may be rather moot, given that Fox Soccer Channel also broadcasts Sky Sports News, live and direct from Great Britain, which is in many ways a superior show. However, it is more often than not the American accents that most Americans want to hear, thus the supposed appeal of FSWR's anchors. As a fan that absolutely needs his fix of soccer on a regular, all-too-frequent basis, it is readily apparent that Bobby McMahon single-handedly carries the burden of making Fox Sports World Report both credible and interesting. That is something that no other sports analyst, be they American or European, can claim.

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