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ESPN Continues to Improve Its Premier League Production for US Viewers

ian darke ESPN Continues to Improve Its Premier League Production for US Viewers

ESPN's Ian Darke

It’s been a joy so far watching how ESPN’s broadcast of the Premier League on Saturday mornings has evolved. It’s grown, in such a short amount of time, to more of a Premier League show than just a soccer match. Today’s broadcast of the Bolton Wanderers versus Tottenham Hotspur was a perfect example of that.

Consider the pre-match analysis and team line-ups broadcast live directly to viewers in the United States. In the build-up to the game, we had a chance for the excitement to build up ’til the kick-off as opposed to Fox Soccer Channel which often throws you suddenly into a match without a chance to analyze or show the team-lineups and who’s actually playing.

And when the Bolton versus Spurs match began, we had Ian Darke and Efan Ekoku commentating on the match and enjoying a jovial banter between the two. At times, some of the things they said for the American audience seemed a bit too forced, but overall the sincerity shone through and you can see and hear that they’re trying to bring the game into American homes in a quality fashion rather than talking down to the audience.

At half-time during a very entertaining game, we then had Rebecca Lowe give us a great behind-the-scenes peek at the hotel which is connected to the Reebok Stadium so you can see how some of the bedroom windows overlook the pitch itself. It was short, informative but definitely something you don’t normally see, which I appreciated.

After the thoroughly entertaining match ended, the show wasn’t over. Darke introduced us to his interview with Clint Dempsey. While the interview wasn’t hard-hitting, we did learn a few things about the personal side of Dempsey as well as the revelation that he doesn’t follow Major League Soccer much from his home in England and has lost touch with what’s going on in the US domestic league.

Darke and Ekoku also enjoyed a discussion of the controversial Nani goal from last weekend and featured analysis from former referee Steve Bennett as he shared his insight on who made mistakes regarding the incident.

All in all it was a brilliant production and shows a wonderful glimpse of what ESPN does best, which is to attract viewers and keep them loyal. What I find particularly interesting is the way that ESPN shows these Premier League matches feels as American as Major League Soccer games are that are shown on the same network. In fact, if anything, the Premier League matches feel more American. It feels like I’m watching the 2010 World Cup again with the world-class commentators such as Darke and Ekoku in action. The soccer shown is just as entertaining and at a high level like the World Cup. And the way that the familiar voice of Darke brings the game into your home feels very comforting and natural.

However, not everything is smelling like roses for viewers watching soccer games on ESPN. One advantage of the Bolton against Tottenham match for viewers in the United States was that it was the early kick-off. And more importantly there were no other matches played at the same time. What ESPN2 does best is the early Saturday morning kickoff. But when they televise Premier League matches that are being played at the same time as others, as they do on some Saturdays and some weekdays, the experience is ruined. Darke has the annoying habit of mentioning scores from other games. Plus the ticker runs across the bottom revealing scores of other matches, and the whole ritual of enjoying the Premier League experience, one game at a time, is wrecked.

What that tactic ends up doing is ruining the TV ratings for Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Soccer Plus. When soccer fans know what the score is of a match that is being shown (and probably recorded by that soccer fan) on Fox, chances are they may not watch it or they may fast forward to the end to see the goals. But how would ESPN like it if the tables were turned and Fox Soccer Channel told viewers what the score was of the ESPN2 match? ESPN’s TV ratings would take a hit.

I don’t believe ESPN is doing what they do to intentionally hurt Fox Soccer Channel. I’m sure they believe that Americans would prefer to know what’s happening in the other matches being played simultaneously rather than pretend that they’re not happening. But for the vast majority of die-hard soccer fans who prefer to tape games and watch them in their entirety, ESPN ruins that experience. Luckily, for the most part, ESPN2 shows Premier League matches when no other games are being played, so the damage is limited. But just wait til Wednesday’s Manchester derby on ESPN2 when Ian Darke will probably reveal the scores from the other matches that are being played at the same time. Games such as Chelsea against Fulham and Wigan versus Liverpool.

Overall, though, ESPN has been doing a stellar job with presenting Premier League soccer to an American audience. With a few important tweaks they can be as flawless as they were in the 2010 World Cup. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’ll see the light and make the necessary changes in the coming weeks.

This entry was posted in General, Leagues: EPL. Bookmark the permalink.

About Christopher Harris

Founder and publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris is the managing editor of the site. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who has lived in Florida since 1984, has supported Swansea City since 1979. He's also an expert on soccer in South Florida, and got engaged during half-time of a MLS game. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005, which was rebranded as World Soccer Talk in 2013.
View all posts by Christopher Harris →

39 Responses to ESPN Continues to Improve Its Premier League Production for US Viewers

  1. the thing is says:

    Other than how they needlessly mentioned how Stuart Holden’s mom was at home in Houston watching the game, the production was fine. Darke tends to talk too much and Ekoku thinks he knows everything, which I could also do without, but it’s still good when they have the early game.

    • This One Guy in Detroit says:

      Other than how they needlessly mentioned how Stuart Holden’s mom was at home in Houston watching the game

      Lots of stuff uttered by commentators during a gamecast is “needless.” What made this one worth singling out?

      And anyway, it was simply a reference back to Holden’s pregame interview, where he talked about his mom gathering for an early morning coffee party to watch the game.

  2. Dave says:

    I like being thrown into the games actually. Lets me plan my life and bust weekend mornings.

    Also how is DST going to affect our US schedules tomorrow? Didn’t the UK do back an hour last week? You guys should throw up a post about that.

  3. Chris says:

    Yeah it was almost to much American. Even though im American I got tired of them talking about Holden and his family haha. Another thing thats getting me mad is the Monday games are not being shown on ESPN 2. They are only showing them online on ESPN 3. Gaffer even said that ESPN said they wasnt goingto do this much. but I cant even remember the last time they shown a game on monday.

  4. DJ Allen says:

    Wow, an ESPN analyst talking about how great ESPN coverage is. Boy, didn’t see that one coming.

    ESPN’s coverage has been laughable involving soccer. Sure, the time slot that these matches (and MLS matches) are in, they have good pre-game, they cover the match well, and then they jam 30 minutes of post-game coverage into a 5 minute slot before abruptly going to their “much needed coverage” of competitive rock throwing or some other ridiculous sport that people think is better than soccer.

    Let me use ESPN radio as my example: not one single radio personality on DURING THE WEEK gives a rat’s rear about soccer. Not one. In fact, every time I’ve heard them mention soccer outside of World Cup coverage has been negative. It sickens me to the point of not even listening to the radio anymore. ESPN isn’t the “world leader in sports,” not in America, they are the “leader in American sports.”

    Its sad that no one points this out to THEM, well, anyone at ESPN that can actually improve things.

    Perhaps, ESPN, Americans don’t care about soccer BECAUSE it gets so little airtime. Ever think of that?

    • Nick says:

      I honestly read that and couldn’t find your criticisms apart from you feel the post-game is too short. Did anyone else see his complaints? because all I saw was another American bitching cause soccer isn’t popular, which hardly has to do with the topic and what a great job ESPN has been doing with their EPL coverage this season.

    • AZSaint says:

      What makes me chuckle is the ESPN Top 10 plays when they show a brilliant Champions League goal or two and the ESPN host is talking over it saying something like ‘oh and here’s a soccer goal that’s so thrilling for the 2 people who care’ when it’s a truly STUNNING goal and he/she will then almost spontaneously combust over some bogstandard NBA slamdunk in a 154-114 game that we’ve all seen more times than we even know like it’s the most incredible acomplishment in the history of all sports.

      And don’t get me started about a shortstop BAREHANDING the ball in MLB… ‘DID. YOU. SEE. THAT? HE. BAREHANDED. THE. BALL. HE PICKED IT UP WITH HIS BAREHANDS PEOPLE!!!!!!!’. Really? I mean really? Is it really that hard to pick up a ball without using a glove the size of a shovel on the end of your hand? Reallly?

      Up The Saints.

  5. alan kane says:

    The coverage is top rate and yes the build up to the game is excellent. ESPN is getting it right and continues to make the experience better compared to FSC which as previously stated “dump” you into the game from their LA studios. Just as they cancelled Soccer Talk Live they should follow suit and cancel their Fox Match Day pre game and just use the sky sports pre game shows( I’m sure that would be cheaper for them) and we all know how low budget they are given the look of their cable access sets.

  6. Stacy Richardson says:

    I agree that the match this morning was a delight to watch: an excellent contest, produced and announced by people whose primary fault seems to be that they may care a little too much about how their show is playing in America. They can always ease up a bit on that, but I think if they should err, let them err on the side of playing to the American audience. After all, only Americans are seeing this broadcast.

    I am still giddy over the idea that I can watch Premier League games produced exclusively for Americans. And I didn’t mind the pre-game interview with Stuart Holden. However, interviewing one American player in the pre-game, and another American in the post-game may be too much. Use an American interviewee in the pre-game and a good English-speaking player of another nationality in the post-game (or vice versa).

    I agree that some of the banter between Darke and Ekoku seemed forced, but it was fairly high-quality stuff, if you consider the actual content and overlook the awkwardness. Ian Darke may not be much of a humorist; if he’s not naturally funny, he shouldn’t try to be something he’s not.

    Regardless, I think the announcing team will hit their stride. Both are talented broadcasters. I am a broadcaster of long standing and I tend not to give announcers too many breaks. These guys are good.

    ESPN appears to be making a genuine effort to present the best broadcast possible. I do trust that within another two or three months, most of the kinks will have been worked out, and we will do nothing but bask in the pleasure we receive from ESPN’s presentation.

  7. AZSaint says:

    Anyone know how long the delay is on ‘live’ FSC broadcasts and why they show the ‘live’ game delayed? Watching Manure Wolves and the Wolves equalizer came through on the BBC website several minutes before it was shown ‘live’ on FSC. Are all games on a 3 or 4 minute delay?

  8. The Fog says:

    I enjoyed today’s broadcast. But then I always prefer ESPN to FSC. I seldom watch pre- or post-match segments, but today I was drawn to them.

    I wish you would get off your high-horse about not knowing what other scores are!! I vehemently disagree with you. The world goes on away from the match you are currently watching. That’s called the 21st century. Life is not a single thread of information.

    Every sport televised in the US keeps its viewers updated with other scores. Plus, ESPN has reduced its use of the ticker during the matches. I don’t even notice it.

    To me, ESPN will always do a better job than Fox. I am unable to watch Warren Barton…he is so stiff. He needs to have something surgically removed from his rear end.

    • Nickster says:

      ESPN should care about divulging Fox’s scores. ESPN’s soccer coverage doesn’t exist in a vacuum. While Fox and ESPN are media competitors, they are are in bed together when it comes to soccer. In order for ESPN’s soccer ratings to be successful, soccer as whole in the U.S. needs to be successful–and that means ESPN needs Fox to successfully attract viewers too. ESPN cannot maintain soccer interest by itself with its one Saturday game in the wee hours of the morning, the occasional weekday game, and no on-air soccer programming of its own.

      Undermining Fox’s coverage by reporting scores of their games does not benefit ESPN in the long run. If the casual viewer becomes disenchanted with soccer, not only will they stop watching Fox matches, but ESPN’s too. The way to prevent disenchantment is to keep games exciting; one way to do that is by not divulging scores.

      Soccer viewing in the U.S. is not like that of other sports. Other sports televised in the U.S. do not need to establish a foothold like soccer does.
      Other sports already have a solid fanbase of millions upon millions of supporters. Die-hard soccer fans who support a particular team might not mind knowing other scores but casual fan would likely not bother to watch, perhaps opting to watch an exciting college football game instead. You’ve got to get the consumer hooked before you start messing with the product if you want them to continue using. ESPN needs to understand the U.S. isn’t hooked yet on soccer and it won’t take much for the casual viewer to find something else to watch.

      The average casual soccer viewer may not have a specific team they support but enjoys watching EPL matches in general–at least until they pick a specific team to support. These are the fans ESPN and Fox are trying to lure into the fold. Difficult to do if you ruin the enjoyment of watching the games or remove the reason to watch them by reporting the results.

      The score ticker works in U.S. sports because conference/division separations make most games meaningless to your particular team’s standing, not to mention some teams only play each other every four years. Thus, most people won’t watch or don’t care to watch or follow many of other the teams (notwithstanding fantasy leaguers) and welcome being updated on other scores as they happen.

      The round robin structure of EPL, where all teams play each other every year, and every game directly impacts each team’s standing, means an EPL fan is more apt to watch many of the other games and might not want to have his viewing experience diminished by knowing the score in advance.

      • The Fog says:

        Giving scores is not “undermining” Fox’s efforts. Fox’s production “undermines” Fox’s efforts. How is knowing a score going to turn-off a “casual” fan? If “casual” fan has no rooting interest, they will not care about the score…unless you are concerned that once they know the score is the ever present “1-nil” they will not tune in.

        The fact that “ESPN’s soccer coverage doesn’t exist in a vacuum” is exactly why they should give other scores. Pretending that other matches do not have scores is “living in a vacuum.”

        In order to get the “casual” fan interested in soccer you need to pique their interest. Giving them insights into players they can more readily identify with – Stuart Holden and Clint Dempsey – helps grab their interest.

        Like most sporting events, it’s the beauty of the game that grabs the “casual” fan…not the score. And that is what ESPN is trying to present. It is the “hardcore” fan that doesn’t want to know the other scores, not the “casual” fan. And the “hardcore” fan will not let knowing a score affect their Fox viewing. In fact, it might help knowing that Wigan and West Ham played to a 4-3 result. Now THAT would give me a reason to tune in to a match that Fox has been delayed for five hours before it is broadcast.

        The frequency that teams play each other has nothing to do with whether you show a score. EVERY game affects the standings in every sport.

        • This One Guy in Detroit says:

          You might be right; you might be wrong. Nickster might be right; he might be wrong. But his post is so much better argued than yours, he has convinced me that his position is worth my consideration.

          When you start off with a pointless logical stumble off the top — “Giving scores is not “undermining” Fox’s efforts. Fox’s production “undermines” Fox’s efforts” — you’ve pretty much shot your own post in the foot.

  9. Chris says:

    no bottom line ever.

  10. chris frey says:

    The thing I don’t understand is why they haven’t been televising the Monday afternoon fixtures when they are played. If they are putting all this effort into improving their coverage of the EPL, then why would they stop showing the Monday games. I hate watching them on my computer.

    • bradjmoore48 says:

      It’s simple. If it’s not a Big EPL team (Arsenal, ManU, Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool, possibly Spurs), the ratings for those Monday matches would be much lower than other mid-day programming, so they just push the matches to ESPN3. ESPN never wanted the Monday time slot, but FSC forced it on them as part of the sublicense. As Champions League winds down for the break between group and knockout stages, the Monday matches will feature more prominent teams, so they will be aired.

  11. Nickster says:

    “But just wait til Wednesday’s Manchester derby on ESPN2 when Ian Darke will probably reveal the scores from the other matches that are being played at the same time. ”

    As the saying goes, “Screw me once, shame on you. Screw me twice, shame on me.” I’ll not fall prey to ESPN’s spoiler shenanigans again. The ESPN2 game will be recorded and the very last of Wednesday’s games I will watch.

    • offthepost says:

      I was thinking the exact same thing, and have already started to do so. The only thing is it’s such a big match to agonizingly wait for to watch.

    • Anteneh says:

      Exactly! Never again will I catch ESPN when there are any other matches being played at the same time and even then, it’s not my preference.

      Will be planning to watch the other games on Sportsnet One or online (not ESPN3 mind you).

      I miss Setanta! They were without a doubt the best in overall coverage.

  12. C Dub says:

    I try not to “peek” every week, but I usually find myself on the computer checking my fantasy teams. Its pathetic! I cant go longer than the 1st half without giving in to my curiosity, even though I still record every game. I find it nice to watch the recorded games throughout the week thus giving me a chance to “forget” what transpired. Its like having a new game to watch every night. If it wasn’t for fantasy football I’d probably be bitching about the ESPN reports myself but it doesn’t bother me because I know Im gonna look anyway. Anyways, cant wait for Liverpool/Chelsea. I’ll be glued to the tv!!

  13. David Webb says:

    ESPN are important for football in the UK, keeping the tv rights competive.
    David.

    htt://www.keelbyunited.co.uk

  14. EvertonfanKY says:

    I will be watching Wednesdays game via XBOX Live. Some interesting points in this discussion. But one thing I would like to say is presenation.

    ESPN EPL coverage v FSC EPL Coverage

    ESPN presents and covers the game in a professional manner.
    I love the way we have seen ESPN in the UKs coverage.

    FSC looks very amatuer and I hate there coverage. Yes I will watch a game but pleaseeeeee at least not cut out the international feed.

    I still miss Setanta.

  15. What sort of audience figures are from US viewers and what sort of growth is expected on this?

  16. soonerscotty says:

    So, for you anti-ticker folks…I’m watching a replay of the Inter-Brescia match on FSC and they’ve had a bottom line ticker going during the match showing scores and stats. (it just went away so, it evidently isn’t constant like on ESPN)

    Don’t know if they’re only doing it during replays or if they’re introducing it across the board…I’ve never noticed a ticker on FSC before and thought EPL Talkers would find it interesting.

    Just FYI.

  17. Anteneh says:

    I despised ESPN when they were broadcasting Champions League games and couldn’t be happier when FSC got them; nothing worse than seeing other scores when you also want to catch another match and those horrible “expert” commentators they had at the time.

    Tomorrow is a good example; I’m an Arsenal fan so of course I can’t miss the Wolves away game but would have also liked to have seen the Manchester Derby but will have to go online for that one. I’d gladly turn into streaming games online to watch even Sky Sports than the day I turn to ESPN.

  18. JD says:

    Just watched the Wolves Aresnal game this eveing in ESPN Deportes. ESPN used a pre-recorded loop audio of crow noise! Really annoying! And I think the pre-recorded audio may have been from an MLS game! I turned the channel to Gol TV.

  19. sucka99 says:

    This is laughable. The build up is great because they usually have 15 minutes to fill before and after. Credit for the segments with Dempsey, Holden and the hotel, but when they broadcast in the 10am slot they dump you in and out just like FSC or GolTV do.

  20. Tim says:

    ESPN2….HD
    Fox …..SD

    Who cares what happens on Fox as we don’t get the HD feed.

  21. Kaplan says:

    Gaffer, Isn’t the Wales vs England Euro qualifier on ESPN2? You have it listed on espn3.com only. Please confirm.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Yep, it’s on ESPN2 too. I haven’t had a chance to update the schedule yet. But it’s great news indeed. I don’t think Wales has ever been on ESPN2 before, so it’s a big thrill for me.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

      • Me says:

        As someone with both english and welsh in my heritage this game will be hard to watch. especially as Wilshere and Ramsey will both be playing.

        Also gaffer, you need to take fios to task again. They are launching ESPN 3D HD on 4/5 after TruTV HD last week…still no FSC HD. What gives?

        • The Gaffer says:

          Me, that’s ridiculous that Verizon FiOS has now put BET HD, ESPN 3D HD and TruTV HD in front of Fox Soccer Channel HD. If you’re a Verizon customer and you’re not happy, I would recommend tweeting @FIOSTV and sharing your outrage.

          Cheers,
          The Gaffer

  22. Kaplan says:

    Thanks, gaffer. Hope your Wales do well. Looking forward to seeing how Bale does in this game.

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