In a summer where the Red Sox are tanking and the Patriots have yet to start training camp, Boston’s sports radio channels (98.5 The Sports Hub and WEEI) have turned to the 2014 World Cup to fill in programming hours. Naturally, the move makes sense, given that ratings for the tournament have been very strong in the Boston area, especially for younger viewers.
However, and not surprisingly, the sports radio talk has bordered on the dumb and mundane, presenting commentary that barely scratches the surface. But what do you expect when the overwhelming majority of the stations’ hosts represent just one demographic? Can anyone guess?
Here’s the 98.5 Sports Hub lineup:
And here are WEEI’s shows:
Can it be any less diverse? Oh yeah, you could replace the very talented Michael Holley (the only person of color in those two lineups) with another white guy.
This glaring problem is so clearly evident during the stations’ soccer segments. The world’s most popular sport is still wedged into the typical “will Americans get this sport?” narrative. Extra time. Low scoring. Refs with agendas. This is not a sport we know, but hey, let’s spend hours talking about it and pretend that we know what we are talking about. People are watching, so it must be popular, but why?
The result? Dullness and a lost opportunity to actually highlight more of the city’s soccer culture.
Any smart programmer or general manager would have seen the 2014 World Cup as a chance to tap into new listeners and new voices. Have any of these radio personalities or their bosses ever caught at game at Boston’s North End (the neighborhood shuts down when Italy plays), The Banshee in Dorchester (the best place to catch soccer in the city) or East Boston (now a predominantly Latino enclave)? What about suburb cities such as Brockton or Framingham, both known for a strong Brazilian contingent? These and other examples would easily dispel the myth that soccer is suddenly this new phenomenon. Imagine real live feeds from those locations: “Live all day from The Banshee in the heart of Dot!” That would have been ground-breaking. Instead we get this from a grumpy old white man who has been hosting a very stale sports show for years and can’t speak to the “young kids” any more:
Honest to God. Can SOMEBODY tell me when the EXCITING part begins ? God Awful Dull. #sorrySOCCERphants
— John Dennis (@JohnDennisWEEI) June 26, 2014
As if WEEI’s John Dennis even cares. He doesn’t. But there’s a reason why his show is no longer #1 in Boston. Why do anything different or challenge yourself when you’re tanking? Just say “soccer sucks” and be done with it. Would it be too dangerous if you and your EEI colleagues (and you too, 98.5) consistently bring up the fact that the Latino population in Boston and Massachusetts is growing and trending up? Could that be at least one reason why soccer’s popularity is growing in the Boston area and in this country? Is that so hard to discuss for you guys?
Boston sports radio is just part of the bigger problem when it comes to Boston media. Radio and TV stations keep forgetting that their viewer market is more diverse that they think. But Boston media wouldn’t know a Puerto Rican from a Mexican or a Brazilian from a Colombian. Add to the fact that the city’s most influential sports columnist has taken an Ann Coulter-like view of soccer, and the narrative gets tired fast.
Yeah, don’t mention the fact that the city’s MLS team —which could draw 25,000 at Gillette Stadium and no one would know because the team’s owners (the same guys who own the Patriots) show no sign (yet) of creating a more soccer-specific venue closer to the city— actually has a strong following. Or that kids growing up with NBC Sports, Fox Sports and beIN can watch Messi, Ronaldo and other world stars on any given weekend morning. Or that, I don’t know, the flipping owner of the Red Sox also owns Liverpool?
Listen, I am not expecting these sports talk stations to wake up tomorrow and change their ways. They can barely get past the fact that other people besides middle-aged white guys listen to their programs. But come on, when it comes to soccer, here’s a crazy thought: get actual people who know the sport, who understand the sport’s culture, who actually live and breathe it. Stop looking at soccer like some foreign import that perplexes guys wearing Red Sox caps. Fútbol is here to stay. So the old grumpy white guys just need to chill and open their minds a bit. If they did, they might actually get more listeners and readers.
By the way, this morning, Eddie Andelman —considered by many in Boston to be the city’s most revered sports talk personality during his prime— tweeted this (he has since deleted it):
I rest my case.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last two years, Julito represented the Rebeldes on CBS’ Face the Nation, NPR, Univision, and The New York Times. Recently, he was a digital producer for Al Jazeera America’s The Stream.