Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rob Stone's Not Broadcasting From The Bristol Broom Closet

ESPN do-everything man, Rob Stone, was kind enough to take time out his day to answer a few questions for Unprofessional Foul about soccer, ESPN, Greg Lalas, some topless fun (but not with those people in the picture), and The Sports Guy. Also, be sure to read closely where there may be some hints at the future of soccer at ESPN.

UF would like to thank Rob for finding time in his busy schedule to talk this little ol' blog. Join the fun after the jump.

Can you let us know how you went from playing soccer for one of the "Hidden Ivies", Colgate University, to a ubiquitous presence on ESPN (its soccer programs in particular)? Was it what you planned to do or was it happenchance?

My dad always stressed to me to do what you love. In college, I loved sports and television, so I tried to marry them. I did campus radio work as a D.J. and called basketball games and other events. I got a radio job in Utica, NY doing sports updates in between periods of minor league hockey games. After school I was eventually fortunate enough to get accepted into a 6 month program at ESPN as a production assistant. I passed the test, and was hired full time. I spent horrendous hours running prompter, cutting highlights, etc. I got tired of busting my tail to make others look good, and wanted to do it for myself. I was close to leaving ESPN for an advertising job, but then an opening in a small Fox affiliate in Albany, Georgia was floated my way and I pounced on it. That then led me to Tampa, FL, but I always kept in tough with my ESPN friends back in Connecticut, one day out of the blue, a contact at ESPN that had become the boss of soccer called me and said “I need a tape tomorrow. We have a new soccer show starting (Worldwide Soccer) and want you to host it.” I got it, and since then I’ve just been fortunate enough to continue working on my favorite sport as well as being introduced to several others (college football and basketball, bowling, skiing, darts, the list goes on).

Broadcasting has to be a tough job with all the traveling and time away from home. How do you manage?

Still trying to figure that out to be honest. I have no “office” I report to, so all my research, travel, calls, are done from home. I try to save a chunk of work for the plane rides but I have to be prepared completely by the time I land. Most think of TV as this wonderfully glamorous business, and yes it has perks, but my travel pretty much consists of airport, cab/car, hotel, meetings/practices, gym, eat, sleep, repeat. You will not run into me at the Ritz.

I took a quick glance at some of the Colgate soccer records and your name still appears on several lists, including most shots in the game. Those records have stood since the late 80s and early 90s, pretty impressive. One of your media friends, Greg Lalas, is a former soccer player as well. Who is a better player you or Greg? Don't be bashful.

Stunned that I am still in the record books…come on Colgate recruits get me out of there. When I finished in 1991 there was no MLS and no real reason to continue playing at a competitive level that I was used to. I would have loved to try and make some kind of run at an MLS team if it existed, but I think the chances for survival might have been remote. Greg Lalas succeeded and earned money playing, so he has to win. He’s younger and would still win, but I think I’d be a fairly high pick of his in a pick up game.

Being a former soccer player and covering many soccer matches, what is your take on the relative quality of the USMNT and US soccer in general? Do you think the US will ever be a major player as a soccer nation?

The quality continues to improve, but not at the rate our impatient sporting society would like. I know we have sheer numbers on our side, in regards to finding some immense soccer talents out there, but the value placed on the other “Big” sports out there, will continue to prevent this country’s truly elite athletes from going the soccer route. If soccer was the “main” sport in the U.S., like it is almost everywhere else in the world, it would be different story, but our talent pool gets too diluted due to football, basketball, baseball, hockey, lacrosse, etc.

How about MLS? The Lalas family is obviously high on the MLS, but you have had the opportunity to cover many MLS matches as well as European and high level international matches. Where does the MLS stand in your eyes?

If anyone doesn’t feel I am a believer in MLS they need to be locked away. Remember this league is still an infant in the American sporting landscape. The positive steps that have been made recently (stadiums, new teams, big name international players) are wonderful and should be applauded. But we need to support and nurture the American player more. If that means sending him to Europe so he can earn a paycheck that dwarfs what he gets in MLS, then lets do it. I get tired of seeing some no name foreign player get inked to a deal that is 4 times more than what a hard working young American makes, only to see that foreign player sit on the bench, get beat out by the American, and then eventually leave. MLS is a fair and competitive league that needs more talent, especially on the attacking side. The salary cap needs to be raised dramatically (easy to type when it’s not my money we’re talking about) and we need to continue to locate big name foreign talents who aren’t here for a vacation and who will help educate his young American teammates (i.e. Stoichkov, Nowak, Beckham, etc. – thanks guys).

What does the US need to do or happen to improve in soccer? Are we developing players in the correct manner?

My take would be there needs to be better coaching (which has improved dramatically) with a greater emphasis on individual skills…taking on players, finishing, in short, selfish soccer. Don’t get me wrong, I am a total team guy, but individual brilliance is what separates a World Cup qualifying team from a World Cup contending team…plus it’s a hell of a lot more entertaining to watch, and lets be honest here, entertainment is a big part of anything in our world these days. How many boring events have you gone back to?

What's your opinion of broadcasting games from the "Bristol Broom Closet"? I am staunchly opposed to it because it limits the broadcasters ability to point out things to only the things shown on screen and in replay. Plus, it doesn't give them a feel for the ambience of the stadium.

Trust me, if money was no object it wouldn’t be done. But sometimes you have to be reasonable with your expenses. I am not an executive, but I do know that UEFA was charging insane amounts of money to have a crew call games at the Euro venues. I have never called a game from a monitor, and I know it takes a special skill, and I think we all agree it’s best to be there live. But just having the Euros on our air was a major coup, and the suits at ESPN noticed how successful it was…it can only mean better things for soccer on TV at ESPN down the road.

You are especially familiar with MLS. Can you describe the impact David Beckham has had on MLS in your eyes? Is it good? Or is it the start of the old NASL way?

I have seen nothing but positives out of it. It has challenged other owners to dust off their checkbooks, its brought incalculable amounts of exposure here and abroad, and its made soccer “cool” in places like Hollywood, etc. This is clearly not the old NASL, but I feel MLS does need to loosen the checkbook more and bring in more high priced talent while also supplementing the meager pay of most of the americns on MLS rosters. He is a legit guy..no attitude that I have experienced, and he really cares how his team does, and how the sport grows here…can’t wait to see if he becomes an owner here one day (Miami anyone?)

I have only one question that relates to your friend Bill Simmons, but I thought you might be able to enlighten us. Back in 2006, The Sports Guy selected a Premiership team to "follow," but he asked his readers to help him out in choosing a team. Ultimately, he selected Tottenham Hotspur as his team. We have not heard a word about his team since that time. Is he actually following the team? Have you tried to help him out in following soccer? Please tell me you have busted his chops about this.

I don’t know what happened to his support of Tottenham to be honest. He and I spoke frequently about it as he was pursuing a side, but then I think it kind of died with the explosion of his Pat/Sox/Celts. Trust me, I push the soccer agenda on him all the time.

What club do you support? And, how did you come about supporting the club?

Always kind of supported Man U because my youth team in Connecticut was the Simsbury Red Devils. Outside of that I pretty much just cheer for the Americans abroad. I stay as neutral as I can in MLS.

Who is your favorite player to cover? Least favorite? And why?

One of the great things about covering soccer in the states is that a majority of the players/teams are highly accessible, and good guys on top of that. That is not the case in most major league sports.

Who is the most overrated player in the MLS?

Not going to bite on this one.

What MLS player should we keep our eye on as an up-and-comer?

Stuart Holden with Houston, Maurice Edu in Toronto, Patrick Nyarko in Chicago, and Chris Seitz in Salt Lake…can we get him on the field already? And yes, I know that 3 of those guys are U.S. Olympians, but I think they can take the permanent step to the full national team soon.

I have some non-soccer related questions. How much do you love bowling? You're an announcer for bowling sometimes and are even credited with coming up with the phrase "hambone" for four consecutive strikes. Do you bowl much? If so, what's your average?

I have grown to appreciate the sport and its culture immensely. It was an assignment that was thrust on me, and I went in with low expectations. They were exceeded, but that wasn’t tough to do. I am far from a regular at the lanes, but did take the family there last weekend actually. Even have my own shoes and ball now. Not sure what that says about me. Hambone forever.

Where's your favorite bowling lane? Tulsa, Oklahoma?

Thunder Alley in Omaha, Nebraska. Seriously. Great fans and a new center. Yes, I can now name my favorite bowling centers around the country. Also enjoy Red Rocks in Vegas, Medford, Oregon, and Fountain Valley, just south of L.A.

I heard this rumor about you and a rock show in Columbus, Ohio involving some topless women. What happened?

I see you have spoken to one or both of Lalas’ brothers. (Ed. Note: Yup.) Well done. Good times post All Star game there years ago…thankfully, just before YouTube.

Finally, what's your favorite system? 4-4-2, 4-5-1, something else?

I’m an old school offensive guy…I miss the days of 2 wingers and a forward…give me a 3-4-3 and let the other team adjust.


bford said...

Great interview! Rob Stone is fantastic. Can't wait to hear him again on the radio in Houston at 1560 the game.

He is always funny and has plenty of good things to say anytime he is on the air.

So when are we getting ESPN Soccer over ESPN Classic?

Andrew said...

". . . give me a 3-4-3 and let the other team adjust."

Rob Stone for US Mens coach!

Andrew said...

Also, great job of late with the interviews guys. On point.

Mike Georger said...

as of two weeks ago espn is in talks with the nfl network to form a partnership and use classic for that

if you people think espn would rather spend billions on soccer over more nfl coverage youre fucking disillusioned

The Fan's Attic said...

link on the NFL talks Georger?

Mike Georger said...

thats the most recent one i can find
it doesnt say classic explicitly but there have been numerous other articles this summer about the deal all saying classic would be the choice (obviously because its their most widespread other channel, over deportes and the others)

i think pro football is the worst sport on earth, and the amount of nfl coverage is sickening, but the mouth breathers love it, so expect this to happen i think

Precious Roy said...

Mike: Please, we're not that stupid (unless maybe you are measuring collectively).

A huge chunk of the fixed costs for the NFL are already covered (The marginal cost of putting Mort on the air for more segments is close to $0). So the NFL is a better and safer choice for the 4-letter.

Famous last words but I really don't want EPSN near futbol (for the time being).

Goat said...

I'm all for anything that means more hot action of Heather Mitts tweaking Stoner's nipples. Great get, guys. I've always liked Rob Stone and I'm glad he took the time to talk to you. I wonder, though, does he actually read UF?

Sarah said...

You gotta love the guy just for his "Medina gets a funky cold yellow card" line in the Panama game.

Bigus Dickus said...

Rob are you reading? Goat wants to know!
Oh and if you are, read the other stories, they are fandabbydosie!

Goat said...

Actually, I'm Rob Stone.