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First Impressions: New-Look Union Broadcasts

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Twellman chats before a game in 2010. (Photo by Gail Oskin/Getty Images)
Twellman chats before a game in 2010. (Photo by Gail Oskin/Getty Images)
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Going into Saturday night's match against the Houston Dynamo, we already knew that there had been a major shakeup by the Union in regard to their local television broadcasts. Gone was the use of the Live Well Network, the virtually unknown over-the-air subchannel of 6abc that was used to broadcast the majority of the Union's non-nationally televised matches (with the others being on 6abc's main channel), and gone was former MLS star Kyle Martino.

In were Comcast SportsNet and The Comcast Network, and in was another former MLS star, Taylor Twellman. What remains is the use of 6abc's main channel for many Saturday matches, and the prolific voice of MLS in J.P. Dellacamera. Philadelphia soccer legend Bob Rigby is also slated to be on the broadcast crew as a sideline reporter and studio commentator, but he was absent on Saturday's broadcast, perhaps to appear for the first time at the club's home opener this weekend.

What was unexpected, though, was that Comcast's agreement with the Union goes beyond just broacasting their games on their family of networks -- it also includes coordinating and producing the Union's 6abc broadcasts. Last year, the Union created their own graphics package and outsourced production of many Live Well Network broadcasts to Tupelo-Honey Productions, which resulted in less than ideal quality at times from a production value standpoint.

Now, the Union are taking advantage of their regional sports network partner to power their broadcasts on other stations, something Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia in particular is very familiar with, as they also produce Phillies broadcasts on PHL17, and in years past produced Flyers and Sixers coverage on the CW Philly/UPN57. It is a tactic also used by the Yankees, the Mets, and the Sounders, among many others, and it gives local Union broadcasts a streamlined and consistent feel, as opposed to if the Union decided to have different production teams and graphics on 6abc broadcasts and Comcast SportsNet and The Comcast Network broadcasts.

After the jump, analysis of the actual broadcast itself, including a recap of Mr. Twellman's first night as a Union broadcaster...

Like almost all telecasts on 6abc and the Live Well Network last year, this year's first broadcast began with a thirty-minute pre-game show. One of the things that was immediately noticable was excellent on-air chemistry between Dellacamera and Twellman, who throughout the pre-game had a very friendly banter going back and forth that would ultimately continue throughout the duration of the broadcast.

Like last year's telecasts, the pre-game show consisted of some discussion between the two broadcasters, interspersed with relevant pre-recorded pitch-side interviews with players and coaches from a few hours before. There appeared to be some glitch in some of the pitch-side interviews that caused the video to be choppy, although the audio was fine, but frankly, a pre-game show is a pre-game show is a pre-game show and there's only so much that can be done for them.

Widener University remains the Union's sponsor for the starting lineups, and Toyota continues to have their name on the 'keys to the game'. Overall, mentions of sponsors throughout the broadcast seemed to be markedly less frequent than last year. Whether that's because the Union weren't able to sign up as many sponsors or because they consciously chose to cut back on in-broadcast sponsorship is the question, of course, and something we probably shouldn't guess at.

As for Twellman, he gets an A+ for his first Union broadcast. Even though he was a bit under the weather, he provided everything you could ask for -- humor, a good personality, and, of course, immediate analysis of what he saw taking place on the pitch. He had so much to say, in fact, that he found himself having to make room to speak. We all know that all too often, color analysts sort of wait for a pause to say something, or to be led into some opportunity for discussion by the play-by-play announcer.

Not Twellman. If he wanted to say something, he said it, even if Dellacamera wasn't anticipating him jumping in. There was a pretty funny thirty second or so possession that the Union were starting to put together, and all of a sudden, Twellman started trying to tell the Union player who to pass it to. It's this attitude towards his role in the broadcast booth that allows Twellman to gain excellent chemistry with whomever he's working with, such that it really feels like the announcers are just having a conversation about the game in front of them. In contrast, in Kyle Martino's work on Union telecasts, he was rarely as boisterous as Twellman was, and it didn't always seem to fit the flow of the game (it seems pretty clear to me, however, that Martino has 'future coach' written all over him).

Similarly, while Martino certainly focused his analysis on the Union and its players, he didn't quite seem to have a rooting interest for the Union. That can be both a good and bad thing for a local broadcaster -- certainly no one wants to hear someone constantly selling the team to you, and telling you that your team never makes mistakes and all the awfulness that comes with listening to a true homer. But at the same time, if I'm watching a Union broadcast (or a Flyers broadcast, or a Phillies broadcast, or a Sixers broadcast...), I want to know that the people involved truly want to see the Union win.

And Taylor Twellman wants the Union to win -- he even referred to them as "we" once, before quickly correcting himself. That's of course when you start to approach the fine line between 'biased announcer' and 'homer announcer', but I suspect Twellman will manage to avoid crossing that line and stand right towards the edge.

In the end, Saturday's Union broadcast was a lot more upbeat and full of funny remarks by both Dellacamera and Twellman than we saw throughout much of last season, hopefully a sign of things to come for Union fans this year -- though surely the score helped -- and, really, isn't that what you're looking for when you turn on a game of some kind, to be entertained?