ESPN today significantly raised the bar today on the quality of Premier League coverage in the United States. Their early kickoff between Manchester City and Chelsea was a turning point for a few different reasons. First, the game featured one of the top English commentators, Ian Darke, broadcasting exclusively to a U.S. audience. Second, the pre-game, half-time and post-match analysis was broadcast live from a studio in London featuring ESPN UK presenter Rebecca Lowe and analyst Steve McManaman. Third and finally, the quality of the production from the studio was exquisite, featuring a segment on Dimitar Berbatov and a level of analysis that is far more in-depth to what we’re accustomed to hearing in this country.
ESPN’s new-and-improved packaging of the Premier League shows the commitment that the broadcaster is making to increase the quality of its coverage, which will hopefully lead to higher TV ratings. The move by ESPN is a logical choice since it will hopefully attract a U.S. audience who were spoiled by a near-perfect World Cup production and then bring them into familiar surroundings for Premier League games courtesy of Darke and McManaman. It’s a perfect way for ESPN to capitalize on all of the goodwill they earned from its World Cup coverage and to carry that into the rest of the Premier League season and beyond.
Despite the plaudits, many EPL Talk readers complained Saturday morning that the quality of the HD transmission of the game itself was not as crisp as the international feed. Hopefully this is something that ESPN can improve in future weeks.
As for Ian Darke’s role as a commentator for the game, he didn’t dumb down his commentary for the U.S. viewing audience, which was pleasing to hear. When he had an opportunity, he provided some background for UK matters such as explaining the distance between London and Manchester, and mentioning who Ashley Cole’s wife is. But all in all, Darke kept his focus on the game itself and provided an impressive commentary as he usually does. He was aided by co-commentator Stewart Robson.