Day One: First Impressions of ESPN's Euro '08 Coverage


Euro 2008 is finally here after the standard mega sports event buildup.  And for ESPN, today is the beginning of their broadcast of the entire tournmanet for the first time.  The network has been rolling the ads for weeks and made a big addition to its on-air talent with Andy Gray.  Now, at last, the coverage itself is the focus.  So how did the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports do?

Overall, it seemed to go fairly well.  Derek Rae and Tommy Smyth was pretty much their standard selves on the first game, which means you already love them or hate them based on their past broadcasts.  Personally, I’m a fan of Rae, and thought he was great.  I was worried about how Adrian Healey and Andy Gray would come together, but it ended up just fine, with Gray’s class shining but not overpowering Healey, who was able to work well with him.  Part of me, however, wishes for a Derek Rae/Andy Gray booth at some point.  Maybe for the final.  As for the on-screen look, I’m glad to see ESPN’s graphics was in line with UEFA’s own TV feed, right down to the scorebox in the top right.  There were no unnecessary large boxes with mismatched color, and nothing that popped on-screen interfered with the match itself.

The studio show, however, left something to be desired.  First off, Steve Bunin seemed to be having a hard time keeping the show moving.  I’ve seen Bunin before on MLS broadcasts, and he’s always seemed uncomfortable with soccer.  But given Bunin was not on the network’s original slate of hosts, maybe this ends up being just a last minute call-in.  Then there is Julie Foudy.  Foudy is ok as an analyst, but when she was alongside Andy Gray, she seemed superfluous.  Gray just knows everything to talk about and how to say it, and so Foudy seemed unsure what to do.  Foudy with Smyth was better, but seemed disjointed compared to Gray’s own efforts.  Hopefully this gets ironed out as the days go on.

Some other random thoughts:
*Loved that ESPN showed the national anthems before the game.  It’s a nice small touch.
*I understand the event is on a related network, but the Belmont Stakes segment between matches was unnecessary, and reminds me why I get fustrated with ESPN’s promotion at times.
*ESPN Axis is a great addition to the studio show analysis, and I hope it makes its way to the network’s MLS and Champions League broadcasts as well.

My final verdict is that this was a good first day of broadcast.  I would like to see the studio show get straightened out a little, but overall it was a job well done, and showed that ESPN is serious about this tournament.  Hopefully the network will be able to keep it up over the next three plus weeks.

31 thoughts on “Day One: First Impressions of ESPN's Euro '08 Coverage”

  1. yeh foudy really needs to get out of the studio. she knows nothing about the game. espn just has her in to fill some sort of diversity quota i feel. they should replace steve bunin with rae/healy and partner them with smythe/gray in studio when they aren’t calling games. so it would be something like healy (or rae), gray (or smythe) and a former footballer like seedorf (although i hated seedorf as an analyst) in studio.

  2. i also had no problem with espn promoting the belmont stakes. they give any moment and every moment they have to promote or hype an event they have showing on the channel. that is simply what they are known for.

  3. I believe the matches on ESPN 2 and ABC will have Rece Davis in the studio instead of the shaky Bunin who has trouble pronouncing all the latin names on the MLS halftime show, and clearly knows little about the sport.

    Dave Revsine a self admitted soccer fan would have been the studio host but he left when the Big Ten network launched.

  4. It should be noted here that ESPN made a respectful note and gave deserved coverage to the passing of Jim McKay. Some of you may never have had occasion to see or hear Jim McKay either on Wide World of Sports or the Olympics. He, as a broadcaster for so many years solely brought international sporting events to American fans. Without him and the Wide World of Sports in the 60’s what was going on in the European sports scene would of been overlooked entirely by American broadcasters. He became the Olympics for many Americans and frankly without him the coverage of the games would not be what it is today in the US. The soccer fan has to thank him for laying the ground work of today coverage of major international soccer events. In fact in 1966 the only coverage of the World Cup was on his Wide World of Sports show in the US.

    I have made a link to the ESPN page about his outstanding lifetime of work. I would urge everyone to drop by it and read about this man that did so much for the American sports fan. He will be missed.

  5. Just to add: I didn’t think about this until after I saw him, but Rece Davis, who is scheduled to be the head studio host, was assigned to report on the Belmont Stakes today, which would explain his absence.

  6. ic…i was wondering where rece davis was. though honestly i think bunin did well. he kept on harping on guys faking injuries though, which was not really surprising.

    i think janucz mahalic from press pass and uefa cl or chris sullivan from fsc would’ve been two great additions for the studio analyst. i dont understand why foudy, who does nothing broadcast-related all year, all of a sudden comes in as a studio analyst.

  7. I think Andy Gray was class. Great pickup, ESPN. He’s a name that a lot of teenage and mid-20s who don’t even follow the sport recognize as he’s done a lot of work on FIFA the videogame.

  8. julie foudy boo

    I think she was installed as an analyst around the time that the women’s team won the world cup and Chastain took her shirt off. ESPN probably figured that women would be more likely to watch soccer after that and Foudy was a name and known personality from that successful team and era that females could relate to. That was so long ago, though. Time to move on, ESPN…

  9. So true Brian. The first time I remember hearing the name Andy Gray was playing World Cup 2002 video game, the line Clive T always used was ” Andy Gray pulling himself away from the golf course to be with us today.”

  10. down here in aus we are getting the martin tyler commentary on free to air tele and on setanta we are getting the bbc and itv feeds depending on the game shown. More importantly we get the half time analysis. Excellent presentation by all in my opinion.

  11. Of course, Tyler and Gray have been working together since 1992 and are en excellent partnership. We have plenty of awful commentators in the UK though – looking at you, Peter Drury in particular.

  12. Foudy was actually in the studio for the 1998 World Cup in France before the WWC and Womans team came to fame.

    They tried using Heather Mitts and Brandi Chastain on telecasts too at one point, MLS only I guess (which is what MLS deserves for the product they produce) but that as you can imagine did not go over big.

    Soccer has for a long time been seen as a girls sport in this country, so you have to understand the mentality as to why she was chosen and how ESPN felt they could popularize the game by marketing it to woman.

    That time has come and gone and thankfully with the likes of Andy Gray and others ESPN gets it. Now they need to hire more British and Latin personalities. I’ve come to the conclusion if you are American you cannot properly understand football unless:

    a) You travel a great deal and interact with non-Americans
    b) You marry into a latino or ethnic european family that still speaks the native language in the house (ie Italian Americans who gave up soccer for baseball and now rediscover soccer after the Azurri wins the world cup don’t count)
    c) You have some depth of understanding of tactics and the international ie non americanized rules of the game.

    Otherwise you are unqualified to comment on this sport and can stick to Baseball, American Football and Horse Racing which are simple games with simple tactics compared to football.
    (Note I left Basketball out of that because Basketball can be as complicated as football from a strategy standpoint if coached right)

  13. Overall, two thumbs up to ESPN.
    First, for picking up Andy Gray who is sheer class. Second, for showing the national anthems.
    Third, for decent studio coverage. Well, Foudy is retarded, but so what.
    Come on, the tourney is on national television, and we don’t have to pay $200 for the first time. And today, with US-Argentina friendly at the end of the day caps a superb day of football.
    Sometimes it is easy to criticize ESPN, but I think they have done a way better job this time around. Remember Wynalda, Dave O’Brian, Foudy combination last time around: a horror show.
    This time, it is just fine!!!

  14. US-Argentina caps a good day of football?

    If you watched Argentina-Mexico the other night that was anything but good football with the Argentines absolutely slaughtering the helpless Mexicans who need I remind everyone has about 10 times the skill that the Americans have.

    Argentina can name their scoreline tonight, if they even care with Brazil in a qualifier next week. On the other hand us Americans are going to be sweating out every qualifier with the state we are at currently.

  15. Adrian Heeley really needs to stop smacking his lips before he starts to talk. It is so annoying i hate listening to him when he does that. Drink some water if your mouth is dry!!!! Andy gray is class of course, but Adrian is awesome other than that annoying noise he makes when he opens his mouth. I am so annoyed.

  16. Do not forget Mexico -Peru from Soldiers Field in Chicago on the Spanish station. Forgot which one.

    Given what I have seen from Euro 08, the US has better soccer being played on it’s soil today then anything in Europe! Lets score first and hang on should be the theme of the Euro matches so far. How did Poland qualify anyway.

    Mexico would easily be a favorite for the Euro finals especially with Sven as their coach! Name me a player in the current Euro football show as fun to watch as C. Blanco! You can’t. And he can’t make their current squad. That shows talent.

  17. @7 is seriously right.

    Podolski scoring twice, Andy Gray commentating, and a game in high-def resolution? I felt like there should have been an Xbox controller in my hands.

  18. I took a lot of heat for putting Lukas Podolski ahead of Mario Gomez in the starting lineup when I previewed Germany..

    Hmm, looks like I made the wise choice seeing as how Podolski scored twice today and Gomez was no better than average.

  19. American Football is simple? Wow, if you are American then you really need to get out more. Seriously. American Football is the most complex game there is.

  20. BTW I’m a lover of all sports (NFL, College Football, College Basketball…sometimes the NBA, and of course Soccer) except baseball.

  21. Julie Foudy = Blech

    The commentary is great but the studio stuff is awful.

    Shame they never bothered to send those guys to Austria or Switzerland.

  22. Foudy couldn’t have been more off on her calling for that play to be offsides on Holland’s 1st goal. Panucci was put into touch by his teammate Buffon and had a chance to get up and onto the field. If the refs would have blown the play dead beacause Panucci was hurt then that is fine. But since the refs didn’t whistle the play and Panucci was still an active player even though he was on the ground fair play to Holland and that is a goal.

    I really don’t see unless your root for the blue of Italy that it could be seen any other way then how it was called on the field.

    I like to think of what Bill Walton would say if he were to make a comment about Julie Foudey as a broadcaster, “she is HHHOOOORRRRRIIIIIBBBBBLLLLEEEEE.”

  23. American football, a sport I have followed closely for almost 30 years (at the college level not the NFL) is very simple compared to international football..

    On each play only a few outcomes can occur and the team with more speed and more talent generally wins. When Jimmy Johnson and Bobby Bowden (and Frank Beamer) started recruiting smaller faster guys even at D-line in the 1980s it shifted the emphasis of the game in a way where most teams now resemble one another. In real football so many different styles of play occur and the game is a cultural expression.

    Back in the days when teams still ran the wishbone and option and did not run every play out of the shotgun with a 4WR set you may have a point.

    Today you don’t: every team looks the same.

  24. Kartik:

    You have to reconsider your last post. American football simple! I will agree at the NCAA level the teams are more limited but given the limitations of time and games, things have to be basic. In the NCAA the more physically gifted teams have huge advantages. Even given that, NCAA is extremely exciting and interesting to watch. I know you agree.

    Once to you get to the NFL level all things change. All teams have very talented players with great skills. The offense has numerous options on every plays and each defense player has specific assignments. The game plans are complex and extensive film and classroom study is necessary for the players. Technique becomes critical. Soccer is a much less complex`game, more like the NBA. remember every play, every second of a NFL game has to be scripted and planned.

  25. Van Nistelrooy was offside. See page 102.

    “If a defending player steps behind his own goal line (Panucci did not step behind the goal line, he was forced out) in order to place
    an opponent in an offside position (which implies that being legitimately over the goal line would put Ruud offside), the referee shall allow play to
    continue and caution the defender for deliberately leaving the field
    of play without the referee’s permission when the ball is next out of

    Panucci wasn’t an active player and as such should not count towards keeping an attacker onside.

  26. Julie Foudy is a complete joke. Can anyone tell me why she is there? Does she add any value at all to the broadcast? She is so out of her league and annoying it makes it difficult to watch. The way she stumbles around and tries to analyze world class football is pathetic. Listening to her babble makes even Tommy Smyth pleasant on the eardrums. And from what I can tell by reading football message boards, no one likes her. So why does ESPN insist on having her there?
    Other than that ditz, ESPN’s coverage is OK. And the HD images are stunning!

  27. Foudy is poor, as is ESPN’s seemingly endless array of panel hosts, although not poor enough to make Smyth look half-decent.

    However, if you watch every panel discussion while thinking ‘Andy Gray is totally hitting that back at the Bristol Clarion’ the broadcast is so much more enjoyable.

    Poor on-screen talent aside, ESPN’s coverage has been stunning. The hi-def looks and sounds amazing. I have seen the future of football on tv and it has cowbells coming out of one speaker and drums out of another and the orange just looks sooooo orange.

  28. Here is a UEFA’s General Secretary and a soccer ref’s take on the 1st goal scored in the Italy/Holland game.

    Uefa general secretary David Taylor said Swedish referee Peter Frojdfeldt and his assistant Stefan Wittberg were absolutely correct in their interpretation.

    He told a news conference: “There is a lack of understanding as to why this particular goal was awarded. In fact some television commentators have insisted the goal was clearly offside, but that is not the case.

    “The player was not offside because in addition to the goalkeeper there was another Italian player in front of the goalscorer. Even though he had fallen off the pitch his position was still relevant for the purposes of the offside law.

    “Not many people, even in the game, and I include the players, know this interpretation.

    “Incidents like this are very unusual – although I’m informed that there was an incident like this about a month ago in a Swiss Super League match between FC Sion and FC Basel 1893.”

    and the following from the USSF National Instructor Jim Allen and his “Ask a Referee” column:

    “One answer for three questions.

    Jim Allen

    > >Question: I was watching the Euro Cup 2008 qualifier between Italy
    > >and The Netherlands. The first goal generated some controversy.
    > >
    > >During a free kick, the keeper pushed a defender beyond the goal
    > >line. The Dutch recovered the deflected ball and put it back into
    > >the box to where Van Nistlerooy directs the ball into the goal.
    > >Based on the players on the field, he was clearly in an offside
    > >position but the flag was not raised.
    > >
    > >My question is whether or not the defensive player that was on the
    > >ground beyond the goal line should have been counted as the last
    > >defender, meaning the attacking player was not offside, even though
    > >he was not within the boundaries of the field? Or is the fact that
    > >he did not come back into play prior to the goal means that he is
    > >not an active player and the call should have been that the
    > >attacking player was offside?

    USSF answer (June 10, 2008):
    You seem to have a grasp on the problem, which is actually not a
    problem at all — no matter what the TV announcers may have suggested.

    This information in the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the
    Laws of the Game” should give you all the additional information you
    A defender who leaves the field during the course of play and does
    not immediately return must still be considered in determining where
    the second to last defender is for the purpose of judging which
    attackers are in an offside position. Such a defender is considered
    to be on the touch line or goal line closest to his or her off-field
    position. A defender who leaves the field with the referee’s
    permission (and who thus requires the referee’s permission to return)
    is not included in determining offside position.”

    Jim’s message to me included this postscript:
    “Read your Advice to Referees. The defender is off the field of play
    during the course of play. Life is hard for the Italians, good for
    the Dutch.”

    So, fans and fellow refs – this is the OFFICIAL word on the call – Ruud’s goal counts and the italian player should have gotten back up and returned to play ASAP instead of laying on the ground hoping that would make an offside situation happen.

    Kap Kaplowitz
    USSF Associate Referee Instructor

  29. The USSF needs on training its own officials better before interpreting decisions from the Euro where every official is better than the best official in MLS.

    The only decent MLS officials it seems are Canadian. Go figure?

  30. Is ‘USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the
    Laws of the Game”’ a copy of a FIFA document or just a USSF guideline? Cause I could write some ‘Advice to Referees’ that would hold equal weight as the USSF.

    Now, the correct interpretation of the law may well be that van Nistelrooy was onside, but the law as written is impossible to interpret clearly, and in the specific case of the Holland goal, van Nistelrooy was offside by any definition in keeping with the spirit of the law. It would be an absolute nightmare to try to write up a perfect offside law, so maybe I just have to accept that out of any written law will arise flaws in real life situations. That’s ok, that’s football.

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