TV Bypassing Most Soccer Games
Jul. 19, 1996
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ It's right there in the Olympic television listings. Live on NBC Saturday night, the United States vs. Argentina from a modern, vibrant Southern city!
Wait a minute. NBC is showing the Dream Team's opening basketball game against Argentina in Atlanta, not the U.S.-Argentina soccer game at Birmingham's Legion Field. What happened to Alabama's chance to shine?
While civic boosters have talked for months about the games providing Birmingham with an invaluable chance to erase 30-year-old images of civil rights violence, Americans won't see much of Alabama's Magic City.
NBC plans only periodic highlights of the preliminary soccer games, although Birmingham will likely get most of that coverage since it is host to the U.S. team. The gold medal match from Athens, Ga., is the only soccer game currently scheduled to be televised in the United States.
If the underdog Americans get bounced from the soccer tournament, as is likely, that scant coverage could be reduced even further.
``It's another opportunity to have soccer in the news in this country,'' said U.S. soccer coach Bruce Arena. ``Unfortunately, we're not going to get much coverage because of the NBC politics.''
Kasey Keller, the team's captain and goalkeeper, said a lot of people would miss out on seeing how much U.S. soccer was developing.
``We know what's happening, but the rest of the country doesn't,'' he said. ``They aren't going to have the chance to see the tournament and they are going to be disappointed.''
U.S. midfielder Claudio Reyna, whose family comes from Argentina, knows that most of the population of the South American country will be glued to their sets.
``Ninety percent of the people in Argentina will be following the national team,'' he said. ``All over the country they will be watching on TV or listening on the radio _ from grandmas to little kids who are 5 years old.''
The Birmingham Soccer Organizing Committee is being more diplomatic about the lack of live coverage. Spokesman Trevor Hale pointed out that Birmingham will still be mentioned in NBC's highlights, and dozens of international broadcasters are in town. But the only Americans who will see the match live will be those in Legion Field.
An NBC spokesman in Atlanta did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Birmingham will indeed get plenty of TV coverage outside the United States, testament to soccer's international popularity.
The Birmingham matches will be broadcast by two Argentinean television networks as well as companies from Spain, Sweden, Hungary, France, Greece, Brazil, Japan, Chile and a European consortium.
So far, though, there is not much evidence of the kind of coverage Birmingham was hoping for: travelogue-type pieces that show international teams having fun in a vibrant, New South city.