NBC Sports presented on New Year’s Day the first-ever “Premier League Breakaway,” a RedZone-like two-hour program, showing live (and “moments ago”) “look-ins” from the eight Premier League matches being played. Those who wanted to watch the games in their entirety could view the live stream on NBC Sports Live Extra.
“Breakaway Live” is a program that gives viewers the opportunity to watch the most exciting action in all the games, including every goal in each match. The announcer, Rebecca Lowe, guides viewers from one compelling highlight to the next, ensuring that they don’t miss a thing—and that they don’t get bored.
While the program is certainly helpful for viewers playing fantasy soccer, it does little to develop a true appreciation of the game. Instead of watching a match from beginning to end, enjoying the intricate display of skills, the interaction of the players—the camaraderie and enmity—the movement of the defense, the passing game of the offense, the development of strategy, we are jerked from one “exciting” moment to the next.
A Soccer Show Fit for the Attention Impaired
One second, we’re watching Manchester City versus Sunderland, and a minute later, the screen switches and we’re with Liverpool taking a shot on goal against Leicester City. We stay with them for maybe 50 seconds, but nothing exciting is happening (too much passing going on as Leicester tries to figure out how to penetrate Liverpool’s defenses), so Lowe chimes in with “And moment ago, woodwork has been hit in Newcastle.” Exciting! A shot on goal hit the crossbar! But there’s no goal, and the game resumes its languid pace, so we switch again, jerked out of a moment in time and transported to Hull City because there’s a free kick.
Exciting! It’s not a goal, but it’s better than passing. That’s just too boring. But Everton holds, and the passing resumes. The game switches again with Lowe letting us know whether it’s live or replay. We stay with Sunderland for a bit, but there’s a questionable call with a goalie in the Swansea and QPR match, so Lowe takes us there. Ten seconds later, we’re with Arsenal because someone made a run on the goal. On and on it goes, back and forth, never staying with any one game more than a couple of minutes (and some only about 10 seconds) until we’re ripped away once more to West Ham and West Brom with Sakho scoring the first goal of the day with a header. Finally! A goal!
Soccer: A Simple, Beautiful Game
Soccer has had trouble getting a foothold in America, and one of the reasons cited is the game is too slow. We’re used to the fast action of football and high-scoring games. Soccer is about ebb and flow, the development of plays, the fine skills of the players as they work the ball up and down the field. It’s a fluid game, not choppy like the stop-action, play-by-play of American football. There is an organic, seamless, skilled quality to soccer, which has earned it the designation “The Beautiful Game.”
Former Dutch soccer player Johan Cruyff once said, “Football [soccer] is simple, but the hardest thing to do is playing simple football.” The simplicity and elegance of soccer are lost when you reduce it to a highlight reel. The game is not captured in “exciting moments.” It’s expressed in the journey of the players as they find ways to work past the opposing team’s defenses and block attacks. It takes skill and patience—for the players and the fans. If all you want is one exciting moment after another, go watch a “Superman” or “Avengers” movie. Soccer is more like “Casablanca” or “Lawrence of Arabia”—proof that a slower pace does not necessarily mean boring.
“Breakaway Live” transforms the beautiful game into a disconnected collection of explosive moments that titillate the senses and allow you to track your fantasy stats, but they leave you stripped of the satisfaction that comes from sitting through 90 minutes of seamless beauty. Chopping eight games into a frenetic highlight reel is like watching only the final games of each set in a tennis match. Or the last 400 meters of a mile race. Or only the runs and compelling catches in a baseball game. The beauty of the sport in every instance is lost, replaced by the immediate gratification of the score. It reflects a culture that has no patience with romance or even foreplay and wants to jump right into the sack.
“Breakaway Live” is sports at its worst. It perpetuates the disorders of a distracted society that struggles to be present in the moment and enjoy the slow-paced beauty of life. Soccer has been called poetry in motion. There is no poetry in a highlight action reel. Soccer is to be savored, not scarfed down like melting ice cream. It’s to be watched for its artistry, simplicity, and humanity. “Breakaway Live” robs it of all three.