ESPN’s fledgling new sports channel is beginning to pull things together rather nicely since it won the rights that Setanta lost last month. Capturing those 46 games is certainly a coup for them but the work really begins when they add the front row staff to present the output and act as a front for the channel itself. Now they’ve added the Scottish Premier League, the people they now choose to front both Premierships are going to be crucial.
On Friday, they announced that Ray Stubbs had agreed to come to ESPN as main anchor on the Premiership games, ironically beginning with Everton Vs Arsenal on Saturday August 15th. Whilst the BBC were very diplomatic and wished him well, you really had to feel for Stubbs as the BBC had booted him off their live Score programme which aired every Saturday from 2.30pm until 5.30pm. He found out last week that he was being replaced by Gabby Logan, so jumped ship when the opportunity came his way.
Stubbs is a damn fine presenter and deserved better from the BBC, having already lost Football Focus to a younger, trendier presenter and I think it’s a fine choice by ESPN to have him handle the matches. The Beeb are having a somewhat strange purge of their sports staff with Marc Saggers being allowed to leave after his spat with Radio 5’s darling, Alan Green. Green it seems can do no wrong in the eyes of some at the BBC but letting Saggers go was a shabby way to treat one of its better presenters.
Stubbs knows his stuff and is quite a rarity as television presenter who was actually a sportsman, playing for Bangor City and Tranmere Rovers before beginning at local BBC radio. The other main news is that Rebecca Lowe is expected to join him as the co-host for ESPN and it’s well deserved. She’d always done well at the BBC before being passed over too many times, and being picked up by Setanta to work on a variety of programmes.
Lowe, in my opinion, excelled on Setanta, with Football Matters and her presenting on the Blue Square Conference matches. She knows her stuff and deserves another break after the chaotic collapse of her previous employers. It’s an interesting pairing but, they will both be aware of each other after working together for the BBC and have in something in common as bothwere passed over and moved on for less talented, but more aesthetically pleasing colleagues.
What next for ESPN’s television team? They’ve not announced the commentators as yet and I assume they’ll go for the double act which Sky set the template on all those years ago. When Tyler and Gray are in tandem, they take some beating by any rival pairing out there, so it’s crucial they get the pairing spot on. This is a big moment for ESPN in the UK, get it wrong and people will simply turn off. Get it right and they could become a major player in the UK sports market.
As long as they don’t pick up any of the Setanta pundits, I think they’ll be ok. Why do we always have to suffer ex-professional footballers who lack the wit and intelligence you need? It seems the majority of pundits in the UK are chosen purely on the basis of being an ex-footballer first and being able to speak coherently and objectively second.
Jon Champion would be an excellent choice, Connor McNamara one from left field, but another whose stock is rising in the field of punditry. Rescuing Peter Brackley from the football retirement home wouldn’t go amiss either or taking a chance on Paul Walker from Radio Sheffield. He’s an excellent commentator and has started doing some work for Radio 5 too. All of them would deliver an excellent commentary for viewers where ever they’re based. Juliette Ferrington is another under used sports presenter on the BBC and could easily do a good job.
Gavin Peacock would be perfect as the ex-professional; unfortunately, he’s studying Divinity at the Ambrose Seminary in Canada for another two years. I hear Shaka Hislop is an excellent pundit but overall I just want someone who can talk about the game enthusiastically without reverting to cliches and type. Pat Nevin would be a perfect choice, eloquent, determined and honest and another former player that’s under used for the usual old boys club in football punditry.
Overall though, whilst it’s early days for ESPN, they’ve made two excellent decisions so far. Let’s hope they continue in that vein.