Pavarotti of the pitch gears up for World Cup
NEW YORK — Andres Cantor screamed “Goal!” for 38 seconds, four fortissimo shrieks of shock, elation and hysteria that exceeded even the usual volcanic standard set by the Pavarotti of the pitch. Getting ready to broadcast its first World Cup, Telemundo hopes his huge-capacity lungs persuade American viewers that soccer is better in Spanish.
“I never time myself,” the fivetime Emmy Award-winning broadcaster said. “If I can have three new people watch soccer because they have this crazy announcer that goes nuts when a goal is scored and that’s what they think about, but they’re watching the game, I’m happy for the game.”
Alongside the competition on the field will be the battle for American viewers of an audience likely to shrink because of earlier U.S. kickoff times than four years ago — and because this will be the first World Cup since 1986 that won’t have a United States team competing. ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC averaged 3.5 million viewers for 48 group-stage games four years ago, boosted by a 13.4 million average for the three firstround games involving the Americans.
Fox acquired U.S. English-language television rights for three World Cups starting with this year’s championship in Russia and hired mostly American commentators to differentiate itself from the mostly British voices employed in 2010 and 2014 by ESPN, which broadcast the last six tournaments.
Telemundo, part of Comcasts Corp.’s NBCUniversal Inc., took over U.S. Spanish-language rights from Univision, where Cantor called World Cups in 1990, ’94 and ’98 before switching networks.
“It’s disingenuous for us or anybody to say that it doesn’t matter that the U.S. isn’t there,” said Fox analyst Alexi Lalas, who worked three World Cups for ESPN before switching in December 2014. “Having said that, as the biggest party in the world, I think it’s going to overtake some people, and I think people are going to be introduced to teams that maybe they wouldn’t, to players they wouldn’t and they’re going to exposed to stories that maybe they wouldn’t.”
Fox is planning more than 320 hours of broadcast television and over 1,000 hours including digital, according to David Neal, the network’s World Cup executive producer. After the U.S. was eliminated in qualifying last October, Fox decided to base four of its six announce teams at its Los Angeles studios, where they will call matches off monitors. John Strong and Stuart Holden will call games from stadiums in Russia, as will JP Dellacamera and Tony Meola.
Eight of Fox’s 12 match commentators are American, including Aly Wagner as the first female game analyst for a men’s World Cup on U.S. television.
“For us it’s a celebration of the growth of the game in the United States,” Neal said. “You want American voices, I think, because that’s what’s familiar to Americans and their ears.”
Telemundo, using the marketing power of many NBCUniversal networks, wants to attract viewers with a different sound: Cantor’s cantabile con brio. His calls of Carli Lloyd’s 54-yard goal in the 2015 Women’s World Cup final and of Landon Donovan’s stoppage-tie score that advanced the U.S. in 2010 are indelible.
NBC aired a 10-second ad of Cantor shouting “Goal!” during the Super Bowl that was seen by 102 million English-language viewers and 13 million Hispanics. He called a goal by Minnesota’s Eric Staal during an NHL telecast of NBC, and Arlo White did a Cantor impersonation during the final weekend of NBC’s Premier League coverage in May.
Andres Cantor: Five-time Emmy Award-winning broadcaster.