As NBC’s Olympics staff prepared for the 2000 Olympics, it came up with a novel idea to enhance the broadcasts of soccer games in Sydney: have America’s most famous Spanish-language broadcaster, Andrés Cantor, call games in English.
He had just left Univision, the network where he became famous worldwide, for Telemundo, NBC’s Spanish-language outlet. He had lived in the United States for decades. And he wanted to try calling games in English. So he gladly took the offer to be NBC’s lead men’s and women’s soccer play-by-play voice in Sydney.
But an Olympics viewing audience accustomed to an understated style of English-language commentary wasn’t ready for the different rhythm to which Spanish-language announcers are accustomed — with much more talking and a faster pace, even when the TV image is right there. So it wasn’t as much of a success as was hoped for.
The sport has grown immensely in the U.S. in the 21 years since then. A broad and multilingual fan base watches games from every major league in the world, and international tournaments draw huge audiences in English and Spanish.
Many English-speaking fans watch games in Spanish too, even if they don’t know all the words, because they enjoy the style of the broadcast. And most of the English-language networks that carry soccer have had Spanish-speaking broadcasters call games in English in recent years.
So this summer seems the right time for Cantor to return to English-language commentary. Along with a full slate of Spanish-language games on Telemundo and Universo, he’ll call the July 22 Brazil-Germany men’s game on USA Network, and possibly some knockout round games.
And it won’t be 21 years until his next English-language work. NBC plans to have him call English Premier League games when that season starts next month.
‘My own voice’
Cantor is ready for the challenge. He said that the plan for him to call games in English “has been in the works for a while,” and he feels “much more comfortable” doing it now than he did in 2000.
Asked whether the idea was his or NBC’s, he said it was “a mix of the two.”
“I will have to definitely find my own voice in English,” Cantor said. “I don’t know if I’m going to be as wordy as I am in Spanish, but the passion will still be there, obviously, and I look forward to the challenge.”
“This will be a mix of who we are today,” he said.
The Argentina-born Miami resident sees the mix in his home city, a melting pot of soccer cultures from across the Americas. He sees it across the country, too, when he travels to call games for the Fútbol de Primera radio network. And he knows many of the broadcasters at ESPN, Fox, and Univision who’ve called games in English and Spanish — including his son Nico, whom CBS hired from Univision to be one of its top UEFA Champions League voices.
“Spanish is pretty dominant in the major cities in the U.S.,” Cantor said, “and also, there are more and more acculturated Hispanics that speak both languages and appreciate the Latin flair and Latin accent on English-language play-by-play. So definitely, there has been a change culturally that was not there 20 years ago.”
They in turn know the legacy of a broadcaster who will be honored this year with the National Soccer Hall of Fame’s Colin Jose Media Award for lifetime achievement. Strong has called Cantor one of his influences when he was growing up. White has hosted Cantor on NBC’s English-language coverage, including on the field at Manchester United’s stadium a few years ago.
“My style probably will be a mix of my way of calling games in Spanish with the [traditional] passion,” Cantor said, “and I will find my voice to try to find the right balance between what people are used to hearing on their television sets in English, and what I can bring and deliver up and above that. And I hope it gets accepted.”
Olympics soccer storylines
Here’s what Cantor had to say about some of the most prominent teams in the Olympics.
On the U.S. women’s team, and how he has enjoyed calling their games over the years:
“One thing that we always take for granted, because at the end of the day, you know, you sit in the stands and chronicle the game, [is] sometimes, you know, you need to enjoy what you’re watching. And definitely, whenever I call the U.S. women’s national team, I enjoy their games. I get to call many games on the men’s side that get to be too tactical, too tight, too boring, no scoring.”
“Mexico has a very good team that I believe, by the level that I have seen them play, they can definitely shoot for another medal, or at least a semifinal.”
On Argentina’s men’s team, whose playmakers include Atlanta United’s Esequiel Barco:
“I don’t think Barco can do it alone, he’s going to need a team. … It’s a team that needs to start playing as a team out from the gate. … Once you put [on] that blue-and-white shirt, the players change dramatically and always give their best. But I don’t know if this Argentina team can make it to the semis.”
On Spain’s men’s team, with a star-studded roster including Barcelona’s Pedri, who also played at the Euros:
“I’m surprised that any big European [club] team has allowed any of their players to play two consecutive championships. … [Barcelona] are letting go a newcomer in Eric Garcia, and they’re letting go Pedri, who is their youngest and most promising star.”