ESPN’s EPL Coverage At Its Best When It Stays Out of the Way

When ESPN won the rights to show Premier League matches in the U.S., the biggest worry for most football fans in America was that the “Worldwide Leader” would somehow ruin the presentation of the game with subpar announcers and other bells and whistles that often make MLS matches annoying to watch.

If today’s Wigan v. Manchester United broadcast is any indication, however, that won’t be the case. ESPN has wisely chosen to leave the match broadcasting itself to the Premier League’s direct feed and presenters the same way Fox Soccer Channel does, rather than shoving Derek Rae and Tommy Smyth into the infamous “Bristol broom closet,” as they did during EURO 2008 and UEFA Champions League broadcasts. ESPN only intruded during the match itself with a handful of graphics; the infamous “Bottom Line” showed up only twice briefly in the second half to show scores — it stays up the entire time during MLS and U.S. National Team matches — and a graphic stating the colors of the kits popped up twice in each half but took nothing away from the broadcast. The few satellite drops ESPN had early on were gone by halftime.

That said, ESPN has a few kinks to work out in its studio presentation.

The studio team of Georgie Bingham and Robbie Mustoe won’t make anyone forget about Setanta Sports’ Paul Dempsey and Pat Dolan, though even Dempsey would admit that Bingham is easier on the eyes than he is. In her first attempt as studio host, though, Bingham appeared a bit less self-assured than she usually is in her reports on ESPN SoccerNet. Several times she seemed to struggle with the timing of the broadcast, misreading a couple of score reports and looking unsure about when to send the broadcast back to the DW Stadium — which, at one point, she called “The WD Stadium.”

To be fair, that might have been more of a problem with direction than with Bingham herself. This was ESPN’s first use of a studio broadcast in conjunction with the EPL feed, and it’s possible that the studio director didn’t have the timing down just yet. This sort of thing made such transitions feel unnecessarily hurried.

As for Mustoe, he’s certainly no worse than Warren Barton as a studio analyst, and he’s a vast improvement over, say, Alexi Lalas or Marcelo Balboa. His biggest flaw might be that he’s a little vanilla. His commentary lacks the sort of penetrating insight that Dolan provides on a regular basis. He’ll explain things well enough, but little that he said made me feel like I was learning something new about the tactics and strategy of the game — the sort of thing that ESPN probably should be giving its viewers in advance of the World Cup.

Perhaps Mustoe was chosen here simply for his EPL experience and his accent. After all, those British accents sure sound a lot more authoritative. I can’t help but wonder, though, if Mustoe would work better with another analyst to play off of him. Having dual studio analysts works well for ESPN’s college basketball broadcasts. (Incidentally, I hear Kenny Hassan is available.)

For the most part, though, these issues are fixable with time and experience. Bingham and Mustoe seem certain to improve as they get more comfortable with the timing of the broadcast, and they only have a small role to play. So long as ESPN leaves the rest of the match presentation to the experts, it will do just fine. Plus, we can be thankful that ESPN actually promoted EPL matches on non-ESPN channels. Usually, the WWL keeps it in the family, but ESPN clearly wants to grow its soccer audience in advance of the World Cup, and it recognizes that a rising tide floats their boat, too. That’s a big plus for everyone.

68 thoughts on “ESPN’s EPL Coverage At Its Best When It Stays Out of the Way”

  1. Quick disclaimer: I don’t own an HDTV yet, so I was only able to watch this in standard definition. I imagine I might have been a little more impressed if I had seen it in HD, but I don’t think it changes much of my analysis here.

      1. Upon further review it may not have been “True” HD, but compared to watching a bootleg stream on the interwebs it sure seemed that way.

          1. I don’t think the match wasn’t in “True HD,” I think there was a problem with the main camera used for the wide shot of most of the match. When they went to closeups when the ball was out into touch, the picture quality improved noticeably. I was watching the game in HD, and I can say that while most of the game wasn’t for one reason or another, there were parts of it that definitely were.

  2. The biggest gem for me was the discovery today that all three EPL channels (FSC, Setanta, ESPN2) are cross-promoting each others’ telecasts. Your “rising tides” comment was on the nose. I am very excited about the way these networks seem to be working as a partnership for the promotion of soccer in the United States. Color me excited.

    1. The cross-promotion was likely written into the sublicense agreement between ESPN, Inc. and FOX Sports International.

      The “partnership” was formed as a necessity because NO ONE is able to make money airing EPL on any form of non-pay-per-view U.S. television.

  3. DId anybody else think the HD today looked a little weird or funny…i kept seeing the ball have a glare on it like i dunno…sometimes when it zoomned in on the players and they were running it had some kinda shit around the player ?…like i dunno it just looked messed up. But when watching the Chelsea and Hull game is was crystal clear…and i dont think its my tv because Nascar Now before the game was crystal clear also.

    1. yea i had that happen too. I think it was the signal Espn were getting was a little distorted at times. Just a few technical difficulties. Hopefully it doesnt happen often in future matches.

  4. The match was not in HD because there was not and HD international feed available.
    It was a 16/9 SD feed that was enhanced and upscaled. Nonetheless it looked much better then a FSC or GOLTV broadcast. Thanks and good job, ESPN! As long as you keep the original commentary and cut down on showing that annoying bottom ticker you will please many football fans in the US!

  5. I often wondered why soccer wasn’t bigger in the states, then i lived there for a year and had to put with Tommy Smyths “analysis” (in the Paris Hilton type looseness, sense of the word). thank god their keeping him away!

    if anyones interested I wrote a quick review(one sentence) of todays results and what it means for each team here

    Sample: Sunderland – Jones and Bent is one of the better strike partnerships in Premiership. Perfect balance of speed, height and power….. and Bent is there as well

  6. dane’s right…theres no HD feed of any match shown in the 10 AM ET time slot. what we got was an upscaled widescreen feed, prob 480p.

    when we get matches at the earlier time they’ll look much better, as well as all the Monday matches will be true HD also.

  7. Thank god, I didnt mind watching it the way it was…but i thought it was HD and i was like what the hell is going on…and when it came on it kept going off lol. But that is good quality for not being HD…and like many of you said its better than FSC…which i could put up with what we saw on ESPN..than FSC

  8. The technical presentation is so much better on ESPN that watching and listening alone is enhanced. It may not have been true HD but still so much better then what we had before. All in all another good day for the fan.

    Other observations:

    1. With the better visual and audio presentation the sharing of the international feed is better than expected.

    2. Half time highlights and post game highlights from other games were presented. It was good in my opinion to see what was going on at the half at other games.

    3. Pre-game show today was no more than an introduction from the studio. Not sure where from maybe someone can help.

    4. I would expect that when you have the early starts we will see an expanded pre-game show of some sort.

    5. Cross promotion was a good thing but no mention of MLS or USMNT games upcoming. Error in my judgment.

    6. I would like to see the #’s of viewers between the head to head broadcast today, but having Man U on has to give ESPN the leg up.

    7. My guess is that at some future point ESPN will further develop it’s UK presentation and staff and go it alone with their own team. I would think that both the UK and US audiences wil enjoy the product. Getting the right talent is the key but have no fear I was around at ESPN’s launch in the US and they took a bunch of no names and made a world wide leader out of it.

  9. Why cannot ESPN show the match in HD. Wide-screen was definately an improvement on fox but why not HD, the match is filmed in HD so why not broadcast?

  10. Brian Burn, it would help if you read what other people said before you.

    This match was NOT shot in HD that is why ESPN did not broadcast in in HD.

  11. Espn will have better coverage as the season comes along I am actually suprised that they have not screwed this up. I love watching the games in hd and hope that fsc get hd soon

  12. Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh????????

    SUBSTANCE VS STYLE? Sorry guys, I’ll take an EPL game on ESPN (free with every cable package in the USA) any day of the week and twice on Sunday with commentators speaking in Mongol. And who the F cares about half-time studio rubbish.

    The guy who wrote this article probably uses soooo much hair gel and hair coloring (if going grey), or has had a hair transplant (if going bald), b.c the guy is soooo concerned about appearance. Again, who the F cares.

    Just let me watch quality EPL soccer (football) for free in the comfort of my own home and I am very happy.


  13. Altidore!!! Can’t wait to see him on ESPN for the first time. Solid assist today in 30 minutes of play for a 1-0 Hull City win. Pumped for him.

  14. I also don’t understand what the problem with having the bottom line is. Can someone please explain to me how this is detrimental to the match? I mean, I’ll admit that it was a little annoying having the scores for the other games that would be on tape delayed (or that I was taping on FSC) shown during the game, but I get the sense that the complaint is more with the fact that the bottom line was there at all, which I don’t get. It doesn’t disrupt any other sports broadcast, or news broadcast for that matter.

    1. It takes away from the game. I like watching the game in perfect aspect ratio and without distraction. I can sort of feel like I’m there if I am alone and no one is bothering me. The bottom line detracts from this atmosphere. The bottom line also spoils the scores of the games that I am recording (not a big deal since I am so used to ESPN having the bottom line on every single sporting event they show).

      1. Right, that’s the point. If you’re so used to having a bottom line on ESPN or cable news, why is it so offputting? Also, They rarely “squish” the screen on ESPN to do a ticker (as they do on FSC for the ads they run on the bottom of the screen), but instead just overlay the ticker on top of the picture. It doesn’t affect anything if you have the slightest ability to concentrate on the game you should be watching anyway. Again, football, basketball, baseball, hockey, raquetball, and timbersports viewers have been able to “deal” with watching their sports with a bottom line ticker for the better part of 15 years now, so why can’t we? I refuse to accept the idea that soccer viewers are fundamentally different from other sports viewers.

        1. Soccer viewers are fundamentally different from other sports viewers. We are more intelligent, sophisticate (well most of us) and we deserve to watch the beautiful game without any distractions. Who needs to know that Favre is returning, and who needs to see that information over and over and over again. The sports ticker needs to leave television! We have internet, tweets, smart-phones, and other technological advancements to get us the scores in real-time. WE DO NOT NEED A SPORTSTICKER!

          1. “We are more intelligent, sophisticate (well most of us) and we deserve to watch the beautiful game without any distractions.”

            In other words, we’re snobs

  15. studio pair of bingham and mustoe definitely was off the mark… maybe just nervous or confusion on the production end? bingham is used to taping hits for the highlights so if she messes up she just films again. this time it was live so looked like nerves played a factor. as with everything, just takes time to settle and get things into a flow production wise.

    who cares though, we have EPL on espn!!


  16. I am glad to see that I was not imagining the quality problems with the Man U game. I was freaking out as I thought the game was HD, but the quality was poor, i.e. ball ghosting, players ghosting, score in left top corner blurry. I have a 58″ so all these little glitches are amplified for me. Regardless, it still looked better than games on Gol and FSC. Hopefully ALL the games will be broadcast in HD in the future.

    I am curious though….To all the people here that say that this timeslot is not filmed/broadcast in HD….how do you know this? Where did you read this fact? Why are early games and Monday games in HD but this timeslot is not? Just curious.


    1. No live games are aired in this timeslot in the UK, and I guess Sky Sports nor TWI want to bring HD camera and production truck to do a game that will not be seen live by the UK. The timeslots are shown in the UK either by Sky Sports or ESPN UK, and they bring the HD cameras for those games.

      1. At this point there’s not enough demand for HD feeds of those games for the PL to spend the money to shoot in HD.

        British broadcasters can’t show any football from anywhere in that slot (from 2:45 pm to 5:15 pm British time). There’s no HD highlight show for football at this time (Sky Sports News isn’t going HD until at least next year and BBC’s Match of the Day isn’t going HD until at least then when they move its production to a new studio complex in Manchester).

        Outside of that, of the countries that the PL gets a decent amount for rights from, only Japan has a fairly-far-along HD infrastructure. The USA is very far along, but before ESPN got the rights a week ago, no HD outlets with rights. HD is in its infancy in most of Europe.

        However, we do get something for HD in the US: since the games are shot in PAL, which is 576i (25 frames per second after deinterlacing) and widescreen, it’s closer to HD than US SD (it’s actually termed Enhanced Definition TV). Unfortunately the upscaling to 720p60 before downscaling to 480i60 introduces a ton of artifacts into the SD feed. Those defects will probably be present for any Saturday that ESPN has a 10am game.

  17. A small nitpicky criticism about the Wigan v Man United broadcast. Why does ESPN have to show the name of the commentators 4 or more times — and this was just in the first half? I like Daniel Mann and Davie Provan, but come on.

    The Gaffer

      1. Agreed. Either go see the game in person or get used to the idea that technology will deviate slightly from you imagining yourself being at the game. The things some people will complain about…

        1. Sorry, it was annoying, and I haven’t liked the damn ticker even before ESPN got the EPL. You only need to show who the announcers are at the beginning of the freakin’ game, not 4 times into it!

          1. You’re right, cause nobody ever comes into a game midway through. Of all the things to be upset about, this is among the silliest. FSC has ads running all over the place during the game, as well as a bug that is twice the size of ESPN’s to say FSC, which also has ads on it. Enjoy the Premier League in HD or near-HD and shut up.

    1. I am happy that we have finally been let in on the secret. Why the need to keep the audience ignorant of who is broadcasting the game. One of the good things if you ask me.

      Few people will watch a game from the start to finish, so every once in a while been told who your listening to makes sense. You also build up a better feel for the game knowing the voices behind the microphone.

  18. I noticed that as well Gaffer…it annoyed my to no end..and they put the team colours up there 4 times as well…hopefully it was only a glitch, coz if they do that every game I will be well pissed!

  19. I am sooo dreading the champion’s league games on FSC this year. I was switching between the the games on FSC and ESPN today, and the difference in picture quality was night and day. Kudos to ESPN

    1. The biggest games (1st priority each matchday) will be on your local FSN affiliate, which usually is in HD as well, if you have that available to you. If I’m not mistaken, Fox Sports en Espanol has an HD equivalent, as do the dedicated UEFA Champions League channels on DirecTV. I watched the Celtic v. Arsenal game on Tuesday of last week in HD and it was great. Admittedly the other games on FSC were crappy quality, and I can’t remember from when I had DirecTV, but I don’t think Setanta has an HD option, but I might be wrong or that might have changed, I dunno. Either way, one or two games a week is better than none.

  20. “This was ESPN’s first use of a studio broadcast in conjunction with the EPL feed”

    Except for last week, when Adrian Healey ran the pre-game studio show.

    EPL Talk: fact checkers need not apply.

  21. The 3pm monday match on ESPN is being broadcast by ESPN UK. Why, then is it only starting at 2.55pm here, when over there there will be at least 30 mins pregame? What is on in the US that they can throw in the UK pregame? Is this a sign that despite ESPN UK producing the match, they will revert to the TWI feed and throw in Bingham and Mustoe?

    As an aside, anybody know any official reason FSC cannot use skysports produced match coverage?

    1. I’m sure its a licensing issue. Besides, it’s better for FSC to place their own stamp on their coverage rather than just broadcast Sky’s coverage. You’re trying to grow the FSC brand, a viewer tuning in and seeing SKY everywhere would get the wrong idea.

      As for ESPN and ESPNUK, they should be treated as two different entities as well so I doubt you’ll ever just see ESPN use the UK feed.

      Also, ESPN2 has previous commitments that day and there’s appears to be a lot of schedule shuffling on the WWL part.

      Note to the viewers out there, SportsCenter will be the pregame for the Monday game. They should have plenty of pregame analysis sprinkled in.

    2. ESPN2 US will take the ESPN UK feed when available, as it did on Monday August 24 and will again on Saturday August 29.

      FSC has to pay BSkyB in order to take Sky Sports feeds. The cost is too high. The PLP/IMG Sports Media (formerly TWI) feeds are included in the cost of the video rights.

      (Note that FSC’s sister networks in Asia operated by ESPN STAR Sports Limited, or ESS, do take Sky Sports voiceovers for EPL, FA Cup, and English National team broadcasts when available.)

      1. FSC is owned by News Corp as BSkyB are, why would they be charged for Sky Sports Feeds, especially if FSC is going to get a better product (and perhaps my corporate business naivete will be caught out a bit by this question)? Are ESPN US and ESPN UK so much more closely related being under the umbrella that is ESPN Int’l, or does ESPN just have so much more money that they can “afford” to carry the ESPN UK feed?

  22. maybe they showing who the commentators are more than once during the brodcast for people that are just tuning in you know. maybe somebody was wondering who was commentating that had just turned it on ESPN and havent heard these guys commentate. get the drift …thats is more than likley the reason.

  23. This has become an insane amount of nitpicking. The point is that the EPL is now on a network that reaches millions more households and obviously has a better production value. Yes, it will take time to iron out all the kinks, but COME ON. FSC has horrible ads that take up twice as much space as the ticker, Setanta shows scores as each goal is scored. They all have issues.

    You snobs all want the best but don’t want to actually have the game in a way that NEW people might come to it. If new people don’t come, ESPN doesn’t broadcast. So yeah, I’ll put up with the commentators’ names and the colors a few times.

    Oh, and FYI, the Hull City match has the colors and directions on-screen four times in the first half… in Spanish.

    Just turn on the games, enjoy them, cheer on your side and wait for the next game. Quit trying to hack away at everything.

    I’m done here.

  24. I enjoyed the ESPN coverage of Manchester United vs. Wigan, but i did not like the scores on the tele-prompter. I don’t know about most of you guys but i like to watch several games on saturday and sunday mornings on different channels and would appreciate not knowing the scores, so that i can enjoy those matches. I can deal with scores at the halftime show, because then I can just walk out of the room or just change the channel until the end of the start of the second half. Good job though ESPN.

  25. The “HD” that was present in the Man U-Wigan game reminded me of what I often see on Fox Saturday afternoon baseball broadcasts.

    Put aside the FSC/Setanta in HD issue, EPL fans in the USA can now watch as high a % of matches that any NFL fan here outside of those owning the Sunday Ticket. Actually, even higher, since CBS/Fox/Etc. will only show one game out of X being played at a given time slot, that one being the game in your region. Put aside the nitpicks like the bottom line ticker (I close one eye and hold my thumb over it for the soccer part… all the MLB/NFL scores are from the day before). I can’t see how anyone can complain with that coverage.

  26. Tommy Smyth on Saturday -…like a rabbit up a drainpipe.” I’d like to see that. Tommy, you’re probably a decent bloke, but you are not a good pundit.

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