ESPN and ABC’s dreams have come true. Sunday’s Euro 2008 final between Germany and Spain is a far better proposition for the Disney owned TV networks than Turkey against Russia would have been. With plenty of German Americans living in the United States as well as a massive hispanic population, TV ratings should be high.
Overall, the amount of attention that ESPN has given to Euro 2008 this summer has far exceeded my expectations. The games seem to be a centerpiece of the network’s coverage and has even been the lead story on some of ESPN’s other sports programs.
The work that ESPN has done this summer is to be applauded. Everything from the TV commercials to the broadcast of a different European Championship final each night leading up to the tournament, as well as the way that ESPN has been cross-promoting the tournament on its own shows, has been fantastic.
Inside the studio, the only mistake the network made was hiring Julie Foudy. While she is exuberant on the set, she adds little to no worthy analysis. As the weeks have passed by, she has grown on me, but ESPN would have done better to hire someone who really knows his or her world football and has more passion than Foudy. That person is Ray Hudson.
What struck me this week is that there really isn’t a TV network that football fans love globally. In the UK, many viewers despise the BBC, ITV and Sky Sports. In the United States, Fox Soccer Channel often gets ridiculed. But with ESPN, they have a unique opportunity to produce high quality soccer coverage. They’re experts at production. Plus they have a soccer expert in Derek Rae as well as a hired hand such as Andy Gray.
Derek Rae, especially, has been a joy to listen to this summer. His level of football commentating as well as his knowledge of the game, the statistics and his impeccable gift of knowing how to pronounce difficult words and speak other languages puts him into the top tier of football commentators. While Andy Gray seems to talk down to Adrian Healey a little bit during matches, Gray and Rae strike up a dynamite partnership. Both Scots are still trying to get used to working with each other, but you can tell that Gray has a lot of respect for his fellow countryman.
The big question is where does ESPN go from here? The next World Cup in 2010 still seems far away. The obvious choice would be for ESPN to enter into the bidding later this year against Setanta Sports and Fox Soccer Channel for the rights to show the English Premier League in the United States. FSC’s current contract with the Premier League runs until 2010.