Why are there so few great American football commentators?
Of the five lead commentators FOX Sports has selected to announce World Cup games in Qatar, only two are American football commentators who were born in the US. FOX’s selection of John Strong and JP Dellacamera makes sense. The duo is a logical addition to FOX Sports given their brand awareness among viewers.
However, why didn’t we see more American-born announcers calling World Cup games for FOX? And why aren’t we seeing more Americans breaking into the industry in general?
Some may say they are not good enough, or they are not given the opportunities because foreigners occupy their jobs. Admittedly, it’s hard to compete when you have arguably the top three English-language commentators in the world working for US broadcasters. The trio of Jon Champion (ESPN), Peter Drury (NBC Sports), and Clive Tyldesley (CBS) bring gravitas to football broadcasts.
MLS’ search for American football commentators
That said, Major League Soccer has used virtually all American commentators since its launch in 1996, but the league has failed to develop any household names.
John Strong is the best exception. But the other, Arlo Whitewhose style is more American than most American announcers despite his English accent, has dropped out of the game and now resigns himself to golf and random Chicago Fire matches.
In the past, there were so few top quality American football announcers because there weren’t many games available to call. However, that has changed. With over 3,000 games available to viewers in the United States through streaming and television, more work has become available. In addition, the number of games from USL, NWSL and other American leagues has created new opportunities.
Things are going to change at MLS too.
This week, sources with knowledge of the situation tell me that the first few hires for Apple’s MLS Season Pass streaming service are clearly American. In doing so, the league has passed on a few arguably better British commentators who live and work in the United States. The competition, sources tell me, is going for American votes.
There’s nothing wrong with that, especially if MLS wants to grow and nurture high-quality American voices. However, my preference is for the league to hire the best available talent rather than who has the “right” accent.
Accents matter in the United States
No doubt there are several better, more qualified commentators in the US than Strong and Dellacamera, but they are not singled out because they do not have an American accent. They can speak completely fluent English but have a Spanish accent. Or they call the game better than others, but their Irish accent doesn’t fit what a broadcaster wants in a World Cup.
Subjectivity certainly plays a role. We all have our own favorite commentators, and the ones we don’t like. And often there is little agreement. But football fans obsessed with the sport can hear the difference. And as we’ve seen in FOX’s coverage of the 2022 World Cup, people with an English accent are often not cut out for the job.
So, with Major League Soccer’s 10-year deal with Apple, the leagues and their US commentators have the long runway to develop new stars. As the 2026 World Cup comes around, hopefully we can say that there are a lot of great American football announcers out there.
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