The production of Arena Football League games on ESPN and ABC has been first-rate. Now, if only the all-sports network can get a significant number of people to watch.
The league has opened its arms to ESPN, which will dominate the national telecasts until the Arena Bowl, on July 29 (to be shown on ABC). It has granted ESPN the type of access that would be the envy elsewhere.
As part of a five-year agreement to televise its games, ESPN acquired minority ownership in the league. So it has a stake in seeing the league succeed.
During the games, the quarterbacks are microphoned and the plays they call are heard from time to time, with the announcers telling you what is going to happen before it does.
And, after a big play, a player will be interviewed not at halftime, but right in the middle of the game.
There is no other sport in which the viewers get so close to the action.
"We hope this leads to other sports' getting this type of access," said Bryan Ryder, ESPN's producer for the league. "I think it makes for great TV."
Ryder was interviewed before the Soul's home opener against the Colorado Crush on March 22 at the Wachovia Center.
A television crew of 75 will return to the Wachovia Center for Monday's 7:30 p.m. game between the Soul and the Georgia Force on ESPN2.
In reviewing the Soul-Crush game on tape, it was apparent how seriously ESPN is taking its coverage of the league.
While the viewers could probably do without the sound effects every time ESPN showed a graphic, the rest of the broadcast was enjoyable. The catch is that viewers need to be interested in the league.
This game was shown on a Thursday night opposite the NCAA men's basketball tournament and drew a 0.3 rating, which translated to 246,688 households. (One rating point on ESPN equals roughly 930,000 households.)
The league's best rating was on opening week, when an ABC game between Kansas City and Chicago drew a 1.0 rating, or 1,091,673 households.
The next four games were televised on ESPN2, with the highest rating a 0.4.
If the ratings don't rise appreciably, it won't be because of the presentation.
The main announcing team consists of Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, the hosts of ESPN radio and ESPN2's Mike and Mike in the Morning, which is simulcast from 6 to 10 a.m.
Golic did the league's games for ESPN for two seasons, when Kurt Warner was the quarterback for the Iowa Barnstormers.
The former Eagles defensive lineman sounds as if he has been announcing the league's games much longer. While viewers don't hear every play the quarterback calls in the huddle, when they do, Golic is at his best.
The quarterback talks in code, but it's one Golic is easily able to decipher. During the game, he frequently heard the play and explained the different options, and the viewers watched what he said take place on the field.
"I just love the sport," Golic said. "It's fast-paced, and I think the talent in the league is night and day compared to when I did it about 10 years ago."
One time, when Soul quarterback Tony Graziani called a time-out, he could be heard yelling at receiver J.J. McKelvey over a presumably missed assignment. While it might not have reflected well on the players, it made for great television.
The most pleasant surprise has been Greenberg, who is not only a league novice but also a newcomer to play-by-play.
"In 17 years of broadcasting I never did play-by-play, and I got my first start doing an arena football game this year on ABC," Greenberg said. "Most people at least get a start doing high school games, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about this assignment."