Most American soccer fans are familiar with the voice of Phil Schoen. Whether partnered with the colorful Ray Hudson, hosting the “Hallo Bundesliga, ” doing voice-overs or covering the many other matches featuried on the GolTV soccer network, hearing Phil’s voice is an alert that says good soccer is on the air.
Phil has a life many of us would envy. With a great family and living in the South Florida area where he grew up, Phil has a job at GolTV that he loves. Additionally, Phil is an avid reader, with a particular fondness for Sherlock Holmes, and enjoys authors Stephen Donaldson and Neil Gaiman. Phil keeps up on his interests in politics and the newest technologies through the internet. Not only a soccer commentator, Phil played soccer as a youngster and club soccer at Bowling Green University, where he also played goalkeeper in an ethnic league in Toledo. And he still laces up the boots on occasion with friends from work and former high school teammates.
Phil was gracious enough to give detailed, thoughtful responses to some questions we posed for Bundesliga Fanatic readers. In the first part of the interview, we’ll discuss Phil’s career and background, GolTV’s Bundesliga programming and working with Ray Hudson. In part two, Phil will give us his thoughts about the current state of German football and the Bundesliga.
Fanatic: I’m aware that ‘Soccer Made in Germany’ was influential in your passion for the game as a youth. What was it about ‘Soccer Made in Germany’ that drew you to the program and soccer in general?
Phil: When I first started playing, way back in the pre-historic 70s, there was hardly any soccer on television. I was fortunate though to live in South Florida where there would be some games on SIN, the predecessor to Univision, and our local PBS station picked up Star Soccer, which highlighted the top teams in England, and Soccer Made in Germany.
So, between Tony Tirado, Mario Machado and Toby Charles my love of soccer blossomed into a love of broadcasting soccer. Those were glory days back in the time where soccer players seemed larger than life. From Kenny Dalglish, Charlie George and Liam Brady to Kevin Keegan, Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Mueller – I would watch every week on my little 11 inch black and white television in my bed room. It was fantastic. My friends and I would all be watching in our homes, especially the highlight reel from all of the weekend’s games, and then as soon as the show was over we’d all burst out with our soccer balls and try to duplicate what we had just seen.
The Miami Gatos had been around, but other than reading the occasional game story in the paper I didn’t follow them much. They changed to the Toros, and Steve David was lighting it up and I remember listening to a game or two – but then they moved up to Fort Lauderdale and brought in guys like Gordon Banks, Nene Cubillas, Elias Figueroa, Gerd Mueller and yes, Ray Hudson – and it took off. My friend’s mom used to pack us all in her VW bus and we’d go to as many games as we could. That’s one of the reasons I hope MLS comes back to South Florida, because I really want my kids to experience that feeling.
Fanatic: You studied voice and broadcasting/journalism at Bowling Green University. At what point had you decided that a career in sports broadcasting/journalism was what you wanted?
Phil: I was fortunate enough to have radio and television courses in high school as well, but even through my college days it was always more of a hobby in my mind. I was one of those kids that would go around mimicking Howard Cosell and Marv Albert and Vin Scully. And it probably wasn’t until my junior or senior year at college that I truly figured out that was what I wanted to do
Fanatic: What do you consider your first “break” in the sports broadcasting/journalism field?
Phil: Probably my first job in fact. I was fortunate enough to get a job about a month out of college at WCTC, a radio station in New Jersey. It’s actually got a pretty good track record of producing talent. I did news and sports, some high school football and basketball and talk shows. And then my first year, they started a soccer show. Bob Reasso was the Rutgers coach at the time and he’s always been a good promoter of the game. By the second year I was hosting the show and did a few cable broadcasts of the nearby ASL team and I started to believe that maybe there was a way to make a career out of soccer broadcasting.
Phil: After leaving WCTC, I moved back to Bowling Green and started working at WFOB, a local station – doing broadcasting of the BGSU sports, local high school sports and started a local show with Gary Palmisano, the BG soccer coach. However, I wanted to get more involved with soccer so I moved to Dallas to work with the local USL team, the Rockets during the year they qualified for the CONCACAF Champions Cup. At the end of the season, a new all sports station opened up back in South Florida and I came home and ended up doing a few local cable games for FIU and the A-League’s Strikers. When MLS came into existence I was fortunate enough to win out the race for ESPN’s broadcast team and was there for five years. After that, I did some USL games on FSC as part of a deal with Umbro – and then GolTV opened up in Miami – a match made in heaven!
Fanatic: My understanding is that GolTV and ESPN currently share the U.S. broadcasting rights, with GolTV sub licensing the rights to two games each matchday to ESPN Deportes and ESPN 3, and that the choice of which games to broadcast is shared with each network alternating the order of selections of games to be broadcast. How far in advance are the decisions on which games to broadcast made? What factors determine which Bundesliga matches GolTV broadcast each week, and do you have input into that decision?
Phil: You have the gist of it correct. We made a similar deal with ESPN Deportes for our La Liga rights. And the actual first pick alternates from week to week. Obviously, there’s some planning ahead of time, but to the best of my knowledge the actual final ‘game draft’ isn’t done until early in the actual week of the game. The decisions are made by the programming department and it would pretty much go the way you would expect with head-to-head matchups between teams at the top of the table, Bayern Munich and traditional powers being the most attractive.
Fanatic: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about the experience of working with Ray Hudson. I know that you watched him as a player years ago with the Miami Toros/Ft. Lauderdale Strikers. The two of you make an outstanding broadcast team. How fun is it work together?
Phil: First, thanks for the compliment. It’s always an adventure to work with Ray! He truly is an amazing individual. He has the ability to light up a room just by walking in the door. I’ve been blessed by working with some amazing people who each can bring something different to the broadcast. From the analysis that Ty Keough brings to each game to the passion and joy of Tommy Smith. However, Ray has that rare ability of being able to discuss the tactics and appreciate the beauty at the same time. He was that way as a player as well. He truly is a wonderful person and I’ve been fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work closely with one of my heroes growing up, and he has proven to be every bit as creative and insightful a broadcaster as he was a player.
Fanatic: What is involved in putting the “Hallo Bundesliga” program together each week?
Phil: For scheduling reasons, we have to cut the program in half unfortunately. Much of the work is done by the producer and editors to highlight the three biggest matches of the week and then plug in all the goals from the other matches.
I have the easy job, especially since I normally see the big matches over the weekend and read about the rest before we produce the show on Monday.
Other than doing some last minute statistical research, it’s pretty much a case of sitting back and witnessing the brilliance of the Bundesliga.
Fanatic: Did you ever imagine as a youngster/college student that we would have so much soccer broadcast in the U.S, in glorious HD, and that you would play a significant role in making the game more accessible to American fans?
Phil: There were times where it looked like the sport was edging into the mainstream – like when the NASL went to USA network, when MSG added some soccer to its schedule, but I had no idea it would ever get this big and I think it’s hit the point where it will continue to blossom.
In my mind, one of the biggest problems with soccer in the States was that too many of the sport’s supposed leaders were almost apologizing for its supposed downfalls. Clocks counting down, timeouts, shootouts and the like. All this did was annoy the fans it already could lay claim to.
The emergence of MLS has given television networks a steady diet of programming and shown that there is a growing audience for the sport. At the same point, the continued ‘niche-ification’ of television, and the emergence of the hispanic market has made it feasible to see so many new network’s adopt the sport as a foundation of their broadcast day.
And seeing a match in HD is the next best thing to being there. I still don’t think soccer has fully tapped in to the HD possibilities either. I believe more MLS teams should follow Houston’s lead and use some of the secondary tier of broadcast stations, like the Dynamo did by working out a deal with KHOU to air the games on 11.2. This would make it even easier for fans to follow the sport for free in a vivid, attractive format.
In addition, I think the sport needs to play up its roots. I’d love to see a US Soccer/MLS channel kind of like ESPN-Classic that could show some old MLS matches, games from the NASL days, older US Soccer matches mixed in with some shorter shows that would go into detail about the past heroes of the game like Billy Gonsalves, Bert Patenaude, Joe Gaetjens and all of these legends that should be honored and not forgotten.
Our many thanks to Phil for taking time out from his busy schedule for an interview. In the next week or so we’ll present the 2nd part of our interview with Phil, in which we’ll more specifically discuss the Bundesliga and German soccer.