Zac Lee Rigg: Dissecting the partisan regional commentator

Why does the commentary of regional broadcast soccer matches veer toward homerism? investigates.
Players aren't the only ones concerned about health for their jobs. TV commentators don't get sick days either.

JP Dellacamera exercises twice before a broadcast. He drinks coffee everywhere except in the booth. He lives by soup and scarves in the winter. He can recall missing two games in his career: one for his father's retirement party and one for his father's funeral.

For decades now, Dellacamera's baritone voice has consistently and even-handedly talked audiences through just about any soccer competition broadcast via television or radio in the United States. So recently when he took a gig with the Philadelphia Union, he stuck to the same formula – coffee, too many hours of research to count, healthy living and nonpartisan stances.

"The one thing about television is that you can't really lie when people see the pictures," Dellacamera told "I think that's the great equalizer."

Dellacamera's approach fits his background. He spent years with ESPN doing national broadcasts of the U.S. national teams, the Champions League and the World Cup.

Usually, though, regional announcers add a splash of bias.

"The regional broadcast – there's a taste of a little bit more homerism," FOX Soccer host Rob Stone told "There's more shilling for the hometown product."

Stone knows about the difference between regional and national broadcasts. He used to call games for the since-contracted Tampa Bay Mutiny.

"I go way back," he said.

Dellacamera says that, for his calls, the main difference is not during the action itself but when the ball is out of play or there is a lull. During national broadcasts, the time allocated to each team is 50-50. The ratio might swell to 70-30 in favor of the home side during regional broadcasts, he says.

"You're not changing the way you call the game, but you do talk more about the team you are working for," Dellcamera said. "That's what the audience is tuning in for. They want to hear more about their team."

Audience certainly factors into it. Fans may relive the call via Major League Soccer's hearty array of replays on its official site, but for the most part the only people watching a regional broadcast live in, well, the region. Since MLS only has one city with more than one team, a split base isn't much of an issue.

"My job is not to root, but to describe and be inclusive," Arlo White, the lead soccer commentator for NBC Sports, told "Likewise, I was part of an organization in Seattle, and wanted to be welcome at the training ground every day, so I had to temper criticism as well."

When White says that he was part of the Seattle organization, he means that literally. Regional announcers are paid by the clubs – either directly or indirectly – rather than by the stations.

Individual teams decide how "much rope" to give announcers, according to Trey Fitz-Gerald, Real Salt Lake's vice president of broadcasting and communications. The gamut ranges from straight calls to former players still calling the team "us."

"I've always told our announcers in our eight years here that we didn't want homers," Fitz-Gerald said. "[When] we came into this market, we felt like there was a certain amount of education that needed to happen for people to learn about the league and the sport at this level. The only way to accelerate that learning curve was to have [the announcers] be authentic."

Some clubs never specify what they expect, like when Seattle brought White over from the BBC in England in 2010.

"It was never spelled out," White said. "I was told to be myself, and call it how I saw it."

The Union didn't give Dellacamera any notes either.

"They don't tell me how to broadcast games," Dellacamera said. "They hired me for a reason; they liked my work. It's my game to call."

Some of the bigger markets – Seattle, New York, Toronto, D.C., aside from the ones already mentioned – lean toward more central broadcasts. Others, less so. Colorado probably stands out as the market with the most slanted telecast.

"Look, a team doesn't want to pay all these TV bills to have their club bashed on television," Stone said.

That legitimate concern must be tempered with journalistic standards. Satisfying both is a balance. Stone cited what he called an "unethical line" commentators shouldn't cross.

"The line goes probably if somebody above you tells you to not speak your mind," he said.

Dellacamera said he would never work for a team that asked him to say "we" or "us." But he allowed that others have different approaches, and highlighted the difference between the play-by-play man and the analyst.

In the end, the biggest difference between regional and national calls is production value. Both Stone and Dellacamera immediately mentioned the meetings – oodles and oodles of meetings – that go into national games. White said that him and his NBC partner, Kyle Martino, approach NBC matches like a Sunday Night Football broadcast.

"It's much more work during a 'national broadcast,'" Stone said.

That production value seeps into commentary quality. Eventually, the best regional announcers find national work. Dellacamera freelances for FOX and NBC. NBC convinced Seattle to release White a year before his three-year deal expired prior to this season.

"You get what you pay for," Stone said.

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