Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport!
The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat!
The human drama of athletic competition.
This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports!
By 1982, ABC’s Wide World of Sports’ introduction had infiltrted American culture so pervasively that if you ask any American right now about “the agony of defeat” they will immediately recall the skiier crashing over the edge of the long jump. If you are not American and have no idea what I’m talking about, Bing “Google” and then Google it.
ABC’s Wide World of Sport was a show that mainly brought Americans odd sports like Triathalon, little league world series’s, swimming, and annual series such as George Willig’s free climbing, and the Harlem Globetrotters. Americans had just four channels of television at the time and some of us loved television so much that we watched a broadcast of a man climbing a mountain.
I was one of those people. I loved the Sugar Ray Leonard fights on Wide World of Sports, the diving championships, track and field, in fact, anything that they broadcast I watched. I even saw the Harlem Globetrotters live in 1985 because of their popularity which was spun by Wide World of Sports.
The 1982 World Cup final was the first live American television broadcast of a World Cup game. Prior to that, the finals were shown a week after the game finished, in highlight format. Imagine an American version of Match of the Day covering the World Cup final. Breaking new ground, Wide World of Sports introduced America to the World Cup, live. It was the title game between Italy and Germany, played at the Bernabeau in Madrid, and I vaguely remember the original broadcast but regardless of whether I remember it or not, the Paley Center for Media has the original broadcast, in its entirety, commercials and everything, free for college students. And a few weeks ago I watched the entire match.
The first thing that modern viewers will note is that Wide World of Sports took commercial breaks whenever there was a goal kick – and also whenever they felt like there was enough time during a stoppage in play to take one. The first commercial was jarring. Schumacher collects the ball after it goes over the end line and the announcer says “we’ll be back after this commercial break”. I’m used to seeing ubiquitous advertising hoardings along the sidelines and the more subtle advertising of official match shirts and balls, but I am just not used to breaks for commercials while watching football.
The commercials though are all classics. For example, Budweiser’s Clydesdale’s and the famous Budweiser slogan (King of Beers) and jingle that are still around, were just then in their nascent stages of development. But watching them again they felt kind of weirdly comfortable, like a new pair of old shoes.
So, there were commercials and there were a lot of commercials too. This broadcast was exactly the “nightmare” broadcast that so many Europeans worry about when they groan about the Americanization of the Beautiful Game. And in a pean to Wide World of Sports broadcast, modern Major League Soccer games don’t take breaks away from the action but the announcers do take a moment away from describing the action to say weird things like “This segment brought to you by DORITOS, the official snack of the Seattle SuperSounders. DORITOS, turn your fingers orange and people will be GREEN with envy. DORITOS.” Even weirder are the commercials announced in the grounds during a match. Imagine if Arsenal’s new Cell Phone sponsor were to get a 10 second spot over the tannoy at the Emirates every 10 minutes. That happens at Sounders games. With all the money that broadcasters are now paying to show games on television, I would be shocked if sponsorship announcements like the ones we get here in the States did NOT make it into the broadcasts in the UK.
The other thread which has continued in modern American broadcasts of football matches, that I noticed in that 1982 Wide World of Sports broadcast, is the ever present Englishman there to explain the game to us. It was annoying to have the rules explained every time the ball went out of play and it didn’t help one iota that the rules were Explained in the Queen’s English. I would much rather have heard a discussion of how West Germany got to that match than have the boundary rules explained to me 80 times.
In fact, watching that broadcast you wouldn’t have known about the Anschluss match where it’s widely believed that West Germany and Austria colluded on the result in the final game of the group stages in order to knock Algeria out of the tournament. West Germany needed a 1 or 2 goal win over Austria and Algeria would finish third. Germany and Austria are fierce rivals but in that game they suddenly played a lackluster 1-0 win for Germany with long periods of little or no action. The suspicion of collusion was so strong that FIFA changed the rules of the tournament and now all of the final group stage games kick off at the same time so teams won’t have the opportunity to contrive a scoreline and keep another team out.
You also wouldn’t have known about Schumacher’s near fatal assault on Battiston in West Germany’s tense semi-final against France. It’s a now famous clip but during the Wide World of Sport broadcast I never heard a single mention of how, on a breakaway, Schumacher comes charging out, heads the ball away from Battiston, and then leaps into the forward knocking him out with his giant German ass, breaking the Frenchman’s teeth, and damaging his vertebrae.
The match itself was a bit drab for the first 45 minutes with neither team really getting in a good shot. In the second half, Italy headed in a one-nil lead off a broken play and then sat back while the Germans pushed forward for the equalizer. Eventually, Italy would get two goals on counter attacks and the Germans would get a consolation goal in the 83 minute. But for me, the highlight was being able to relive a little bit of television history. The big hair, the hard tackles, the backpasses, and of course Jim Mackay taking a break from thee action to bring us the Budweiser commercials.
Let’s hope that today’s Euro Cup match between Italy and Germany doesn’t stop for the King of Beers.