ESPN Beats FOX Soccer In Opening Day of Premier League TV Coverage

With no early kick-off on Saturday, the opening day of the 2011-12 Premier League season gave viewers in the United States a good chance to watch the 30-minute pre-game shows on FOX Soccer and ESPN2.

FOX Soccer launched their new name, new branding and new studio on Saturday morning on their Match Day show (previously known as Fox Soccer Match Day). ESPN2, meanwhile, had their 30-minute pre-game show leading up to the kickoff between Fulham and Aston Villa. This was a perfect opportunity to compare both shows side-by-side, as well as the half-time and post-match shows.

ESPN2 pre-game show

ESPN2 began their 9:30am ET broadcast brightly with a shot of Ian Darke standing alongside the River Thames on a sunny Saturday afternoon in west London. Darke immediately put the game into context by mentioning the London riots, but then turning his attention to one of the most picturesque grounds in English football, Craven Cottage. “The drama starts here,” quipped Ian Darke.

After the opening titles, the broadcast showed some footage we don’t usually get to see in other games. Players getting off the bus, and manager Martin Jol pacing back-and-forth beside the cottage. Then the camera zoomed in to Darke and Steve McManaman standing in the gantry at Craven Cottage with the beautiful and historic Johnny Haynes Stand and the famous cottage over their shoulders. Darke and McManaman then spoke about the London riots again and how great it was that the football was on, when it was at great risk of being cancelled.

The suspense and excitement immediately started to build as you could tell it was a live shot of the two of them as you saw the players warming up on the pitch behind them, and the fans streaming in to the ground.

After a brief video montage of what transpired in the Premier League from the end of last season until this weekend, such as transfer signings and players leaving clubs, the duo returned to talk about Robbie Keane possibly on his way to LA Galaxy and which clubs have been the biggest spenders this summer. This was followed by McManaman’s prediction regarding how the top six will finish in the Premier League.

ESPN then superimposed the team lineup for Aston Villa on top of the live footage of players training at Craven Cottage. At the same time, we were able to hear the sounds of the stadium announcer chatting away on the tannoy. This was followed by an exclusive interview with Aston Villa goalkeeper Shay Given walking through a garden as well as an exclusive interview with new Fulham manager Martin Jol, standing in front of the cottage. This was followed by an exclusive interview with Alex McLeish (despite the initial technical difficulties).

Following this, Darke and McManaman had a very detailed analysis of Aston Villa and Fulham — in terms of the players that Villa had lost, as well as how Fulham can push on this season.

After returning from the commercial break, the ESPN2 broadcast then showed the Fulham and Aston Villa players lining up alongside the cottage and preparing for their entrance on to the pitch. ESPN2 stayed with the players all the way on to the pitch so there were no commercial breaks until the end of the first half.

FOX Soccer Match Day

In contrast, FOX Soccer kicked off Match Day with Christian Miles standing on the set of the new studio advising viewers to “sit back and relax. Match Day starts right here and right now,” which then went in directly to a sponsorship announcement from DirecTV.

After some NFL-esque intro music, the cameras zoomed in to Miles and Warren Barton sitting behind a desk on their impressive, sparkling set. FOX Soccer then jumped into a mini-review of the 2011-12 Premier League season featuring highlights from some of the best goals, which was followed by a review of how the Premier League table ended.

Barton then jumped in to analysis of Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea — and the changes and signings the clubs have made this summer. Some brief analysis of who Barton thought would win the league was followed by a brief update on the three clubs promoted from the Championship to the Premier League (QPR, Norwich and Swansea).

After coming back from a commercial, FOX Soccer showed highlights of the Community Shield and then continued the conversation about the match as the cameras zoomed in on Barton and Miles who were sitting cross-legged on ugly gray chairs (someone needs to tell Barton to ditch the ugly brown shoes which he also wore for the Champions League Final in May). Barton then began a discussion about the riots and showed footage of the destruction in London.

After 16 minutes of coverage, FOX Soccer Match Day finally began discussing Liverpool against Sunderland. Reporter Simon Crabtree was at Anfield to interview Steve Bruce about the game and what the season has in store.

Returning to the studio, FOX Soccer called up Jamie Trecker to share his analysis regarding the summer transfer signings involving Kun Aguero, Luis Enrique, and Arsenal duo Fabregas and Nasri.

After breaking for another commercial, FOX Soccer returned with the team line-ups for Liverpool and Sunderland before breaking for yet another commercial after only a couple of minutes of analysis. When they returned once again, there was a brief shot of the players in the Liverpool tunnel. Barton then provided some more analysis regarding Sunderland and Liverpool. After only a minute or two of analysis, FOX Soccer yet again broke for another commercial.

When they came back, the players were at the center circle getting ready to kick off. We missed the teams lining up and shaking hands and all of the pre-match activity that we saw on ESPN2 for their coverage of the Fulham against Aston Villa game.

ESPN2 half-time and post-game show

In a welcome return to a feature that they had last season, ESPN2 had a very informative and interesting half-time segment. This time it was focused on what the experience is like for soccer supporters arriving at Putney Bridge Station and making their way through Bishop’s Park, past the Johnny Haynes Stand on Stevenage Road, and a little bit of a history lesson about the famous cottage.

In the post-game show, Darke and McManaman spent ten minutes talking about the results from the other games as well as previewing Monday’s match between Manchester City and Swansea.

FOX Soccer Match Day half-time and post-game show

No surprises here. During the half-time and post-game show, it was the same old story. Showing highlights from the first half and second half, as well as highlights from some of the other games. There was little to no reason to watch either the half-time or post-game show unless you missed some of the game.

Comparing FOX Soccer and ESPN2

Without a doubt, ESPN’s pre-game coverage was far superior to what FOX Soccer provided. For example:

  1. Ian Darke and Steve McManaman will always trump Christian Miles and Warren Barton. Darke and McManaman have a great chemistry together and that comes through the television set. When they’re on-screen, you want to listen to what they have to say — whether it’s the intelligent analysis, jokes or insight about the latest breaking transfer news. Miles and Barton are too scripted and too stiff on set. I’d much prefer to see Eric Wynalda on screen than Miles. At least Wynalda is more charismatic.
  2. Being on-site in England will always trump a studio set in Los Angeles, no matter how pretty or expensive it is. When Darke and McManaman report live from England, it’s instantly authentic. Nothing can beat being at the ground especially when they have a great camera position in the stadium. It’s worth every dollar spent. For FOX Soccer, being in a studio is a cold environment. The studio could be anywhere. There is little to no authenticity.
  3. FOX Soccer has far more commercial breaks. ESPN2 broke for its first commercial 21 minutes into their pre-game coverage. FOX Soccer did it after nine minutes. After that ESPN2 had no commercials until the end of the first half. FOX Soccer had three more before the match kicked off.
  4. ESPN2 has more and better analysis of the pre-game. While FOX Soccer tried to cram so much news and highlights into their 30 minutes, ESPN2 — with the advantage of fewer commercials — spent more time analyzing Aston Villa and Fulham, which helped increase the suspense for the game.
  5. ESPN2 had more interviews. While it obviously helps being on-site, ESPN2 used that to the advantage by having several interviews shown during the pre-game analysis compared to the one Steve Bruce interview that FOX Soccer showed.

To be fair to FOX Soccer, Match Day was not meant to be 30 minutes of Liverpool versus Sunderland analysis leading up to the kick-off. They purposely tried to cover several different topics involving other clubs. ESPN2 preferred to focus more on the game at hand with some analysis of what else was happening in the Premier League.

One of the biggest differences between ESPN’s broadcast and the one done by FOX Soccer is that ESPN’s feels more natural. You can hear and sense the excitement coming out of the voices of McManaman and Darke. Again, their broadcast feels more authentic. The ESPN duo could talk for hours and I wouldn’t get bored. Their conversations seem natural and unscripted.

As for FOX Soccer, I was very disappointed with their broadcast. While the new logo looks great, I found no reason why I should watch Match Day for the rest of the season. And the same goes for their half-time and post-game shows. I didn’t hear or learn one piece of interesting information.

FOX Soccer would be wise to dump Miles and Barton, and make better use of their set and graphics by putting Bobby McMahon and Eric Wynalda in those chairs. At least then you would hear expert analysis that comes from their heart and minds instead of from a teleprompter.

It’s obvious that FOX Soccer has spent a significant amount of money to improve their broadcast for the 2011-12 Premier League season. However, that money will be largely wasted unless they make some dramatic changes to convince viewers why they should tune in before games, at half-time or after games.

With ESPN, they’ve shown a way to make pre-game, half-time and post-match analysis must-see TV.

41 thoughts on “ESPN Beats FOX Soccer In Opening Day of Premier League TV Coverage”

  1. ESPN 2 hands down… When they had a tech glitch, Darke rolled with it, and they went right back.

    The other major difference is ESPN’s broadcast is for America. When McManaman was nearly hit with a ball put into row z, it was just real. Color added for the American audience. Meanwhile FSC is a world feed and it feels cold. The pre show is just bad and stale on FSC. It feels forced and frankly FSC would be better served airing paid content during that time slot and just cut to the match.

  2. ESPN’s coverage is by leaps and bounds much better than Fox Soccer’s. The fact that ESPN tailors their broadcast will always give them a heads up.

    However, Fox makes a good business move by leveraging assets they already own – Sky Sports coverage of the EPL.

    It’s a mixed bag. ESPN ultimately spends more money (I feel) with less total broadcasting time but puts out a far better product.

  3. I’m a Liverpool fan and I cut bait on the Fox Soccer pregame to watch the ESPN build up instead within 3 minutes. I think that should say it all really. It’s freakin’ Anfield on opening day of the season…showing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is the most simple decision you could possibly make and they didn’t do it.

    Another reason why I love ESPN’s “from the ground” footage is because it is early in the morning for me. I haven’t had all day to get pumped for the game and Miles and Barton bore me to tears in their studio. When they don’t show the stadium and buildup, I feel like I am out of the moment for the first 5 minutes of the game and don’t really process what’s going on.

    1. I second the opportunity missed by FS.
      Anfield and YNWA on opening day, a chance to treat America to some tradition and history missed.
      Bad form FS…..

      1. To be fair, I’m sure they were scrambling since they likely already had arrangements for Darke and Maca to stay somewhere in london (since it was supposed to be Spurs v Everton originally), so Fulham probably was their most available option.

        Couldn’t agree more about which game was more appealing though. I would flip back to fulham villa every so often, but I stuck primarily with the game at Anfield

  4. Even the buildup to the Newcastle-Arsenal game was ridiculously laughable. Nick Webster must have rambled on for 5 minutes about utter nonsense.

    1. I didn’t understand what Nick Webster was doing either. Its like they told him to start his intro 3 minutes too soon. Speaking of Nick Webster, another wasted on-air personality by FSC. Is that all Nick does now? Just introduce matches.

      1. It is almost as if they just said “Nick you’re on air, just say something about Arsenal and Newcastle please.”

        How about something is (or looks) actually planned, and not just thrown together at the last second.

  5. I have to agree about Wynalda. He’s not totally polished as an anchor (yet), but I really learned to like and trust him on Fox Football Fone-in last year. He has a unique ability to say exactly what he thinks, even if it’s ugly, and yet remain incredibly likable. He obviously has the history to know his stuff on an international level. I keep thinking maybe he would better in the analyst role on FSC’s shows. It broke my heart when they cancelled FFF.

    And there’s something about a British accent that, to me, adds to authenticity to any football related broadcast, whether it’s EPL or MLS. I enjoy watching Seattle Sounders matches more than most others on MLS MatchDay Live, including my own beloved Crew, for that reason alone. Perhaps a UK based accent in the Match Day anchor chair would help a little too. The quality of Ian Darke’s voice is a huge part of why everything on the ESPN2 coverage sounds so darn compelling!

    Anyway, thanks for the great review.

    1. wynalda is the most to the point anchor i have ever listened to. who else would have the balls to tell the american team to get the sand out of their vaginas?

  6. I think ESPN has made leaps and bounds since moving their show out of Bristol and using London based resources for their pre-game. They’ve also become my favorite place to watch soccer, as they put emphasis on the natural sound blending with the announcers so you really feel like you have the best seat in the house.

    1. This is a great point… If FSC just used the SKY pregame, it would gives us a more authentic look into English football. Football First would be a great addition. But… we get a dark soundstage. and groovy backdrop.

      1. haha…groovy backdrop indeed. I flicked to FS for a second and both hosts were in weird chairs with their feet up…so unnecessarily forced and awkward.

  7. I agree, I love the ESPN coverage! The only thing I don’t like with ESPN (and I don’t know how to fix it) is giving the scores of other games that I am DVRing. I know not everyone does this but I find myself DVRing ESPN and watching a lesser game just so I can keep from getting the info. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good problem to have but it sucks just the same.

  8. By far ESPN provides better coverage. This will not change until Fox Soccer begins hiring their own quality announcers for games, and moves their pre-game show over to England. Imagine if Fox Soccer, or ESPN for that matter, did a Monday Night Countdown type pregame show from just outside the grounds of their main Saturday match.

    One question I do have though if anyone knows, is Fox Soccer limited to when they can begin showing the Sky feed? It almost seems as if they can’t start broadcasting the game until Sky flips some switch or something given the number of times they start the broadcasting 30 seconds into a match

    1. Brian, they can begin showing the feed (and playing the audio from the feed) as soon as the TWI/IMG feed is available. It’s not the Sky feed. Sky will often have different commentators than the international feed that we get. But if FOX Soccer wanted to, they could start it with about 10-15 minutes before kick-off. But they choose not to, probably to squeeze in some TV commercials (which I don’t blame them for; they have to make money at the end of the day).

      The Gaffer

  9. One more thing to consider… which I forgot to include in the article is that Darke, McManaman and the ESPN crew had less than 48 hours to prepare for Saturday’s game. As of Thursday morning, Spurs against Everton was canceled and that was the game that they were supposed to show live on ESPN.

    As soon as Darke got off the plane in London on Thursday, he learned that they would be showing Fulham vs Villa instead.

    And then consider how smooth the entire broadcast was compared to FOX Soccer, who had known for weeks that they’d be showing Newcastle against Arsenal and Liverpool versus Sunderland.

    The Gaffer

    1. They are professionals. well the man Shitty thing aside.

      FSC hires C rate people, because they are cheap.

      Just make FSC, SKY, and I’d be soooo very happy. on so many levels.

  10. I agree with everything you say here. The shameful part is that fox soccer is considered a “premium” channel, while ESPN is available in most households with no extra charges. I really hope that when the current fox epl contract is up, ESPN makes a run at more games. One per weekend day would be great. Two would be phenomenal.

  11. It’s a considered a premium channel because it airs MULTIPLE games and not just one.. it doesn’t have to contend with SportsCenter and other shows. It’s strictly soccer.

    I can understand people’s preference to ESPN2, but I personally don’t feel like I have put Fox Soccer down just because ESPN2 covers the matches a little more intimately.. It’s unnecessary to me.. but that’s just me.

    1. I’m with you there, MG. ESPN covers one game and has the money to dress it up with all the bells and whistles.

      Spoiled are these fans…

      1. Exactly what are these “bells and whistles” you refer to? How exactly is putting a camera in the stadium to capture the crowd atmosphere a “bell and whistle”? You know what’s a bell and whistle? Building a new high-tech set in Los Angeles to distance your viewers from anything worth watching.

    1. Probably because it’s UK specific and they feel it’d confuse the audience. For FOX, it is a bit difficult to grow your brand and use someone else’s broadcast. The Sky pregame would talk about their games, playing at UK times.

      When ESPN2 would just simulcast the ESPN UK broadcast with Jon Champion, the pregame was just about the game so it wasn’t that much different than what we get now. Not to mention, the ESPN branding was all the same so there’d be no confusion or deviation.

      If FOX Soccer changed to something like Sky Sports North America, it might make it a little easier. At the end of the day, a show dedicated to an American audience will always be preferred by the networks and ultimately will be better…it’s FOX’s fault for putting on a bad show.

  12. Fox Soccer seems to have taken some baby steps forward in their coverage, but it’s still atrocious. They need to cut their pre-game to 22 minutes, go to the final commercial break at :52 after, and join the international feed at the top of their broadcast at :55 after. Doing so would also have the salutary effect of giving those drones in L.A. much less air time.

  13. once again like ive said before about FOX Soccer, despite your new name, ‘new shows’, new pre-game, new sets.. YOU STILL CAN’T TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS.

    it was a no brainer to watch the ESPN Pre-game so for those who didn’t learn their lesson last year, you learned it after just one game this year. Next week and any other week when FOX Soccer and ESPN are not going head-to-head ill definitely be having my coffee and cake during the ESPN Pre-game (regardless of whos playing) while ill most definitely be watering my garden during the FOX Pre-game (regardless of whos playing).

  14. just wait…my guess is within 4-8 years espn will have a dedicated soccer channel. Its a long wait but the sports is taking off here.

  15. The biggest problem Fox Soccer has is that for the 10am time slot, it has to use the TWI/IMG world feed because there is no SKY or ESPN UK broadcast for 10am kickoffs. So unless it wants to hire an announcing team to go be at the grounds live for its 10am game, we are stuck with what we have.

    Fox Soccer should mirror ESPN US for one game each weekend, and then just do 5 minute voiceover intros for all of their other games. If I was in the production chair, I would do this for the 12:30pm game.

    Just my two cents.

  16. The new Goals on Sunday (replacing Super Sunday Plus) sems to be a turn for the worse as well. I just want to see match highlights and an insighful discussion of the matches and leagues and don’t care for fancy new studios and graphics – which is what GOS is all about. Really bad. Hopefully they’ll figure it out.

    Wynalda is just awful. Just because someone is willing to make caustic, blunt remarks doesn’t make said remarks worth hearing. Dude sounds bitter and opinions are fine but I’m looking for information as well – and he offers none. And please stop shoving MLS down my throat (Amerca’s favorite league my ass).

    1. I’d be interested to see numbers of viewers for MLS matches as opposed to EPL matches.
      I’m guessing the majority of their viewers are tuning in for the EPL and shows relating to it and Europe.

      1. A friend works in the ratings business and passed on the following info about ESPN’s numbers, but he didn’t have access to Fox’s numbers:

        EPL: .224 rating over 47 games in 2010-11 season
        High of .419 December 27, 2010
        MLS: .259 rating over 16 games this season
        High of .445 March 15, 2011

        So they both do pretty much the same it seems

        1. Rob, you do have to consider the time slot. An 8am EST Saturday (EPL) kickoff is NEVER going to do as well as, say, Thursday at 8pm EST (MLS).

          More people will be watching television during those prime time hours.

          1. Agreed, but consider the number of MLS games that kick off in the 10pm timeslot on the east coast. I was simply providing information I had to a wondering mind.

  17. ESPN is far superior and a much better experience. They also broadcast the same show on ESPN3. I’m baffled as to why doesnt. For some reason they insist on chopping it up and making it bare bones.

  18. ESPN’s pre-game coverage may have been better, but the game coverage was shockingly poor. The camera-work missed several incidents, including Danny Murphy’s yellow card. I was sorely disappointed.

    I will say that Ian Darke is one of the best in the business; his hiring was one of the best decisions ESPN has made. I like Steve McManaman,but his analysis is not the most probing.

  19. I think ESPN coverage as a whole is much better than FSC by a long shot. However, I did not like that they decided to change from the ESPN UK graphics used last year for the standard ESPN graphics they used for other soccer game. I find the standard one to take too much space and doesn’t look that great.

    Also, I’m not a big fan of Steve McManaman. He tends to talk too much and provide very little analysis. I would much prefer ESPN used a different co-commentator like Stewart Robson.

  20. Dear ESPN,
    Please tell Ian Darke to stop updating scores around the league during the broadcast. Those of us who own a Tivo or subscribe to would be much obliged.

  21. There sseems to be a mistaken impression by many that Fox Soccer uses their sister UK Sky announcers and feeds for the non-Saturday 10 am matches. They do not. They still use the world feed announcers that go out to dozens of countries. For champions league matches, they DO use the Sky broadcast (eg Martin Tyler for Man Utd matches). Some of the announcers work for both Sky and TWI world feed (Tyler and Parry, for example), but that does not mean we are getting the far better Sky graphics and full coverage. I have been in London and the Sky coverage is very similar to ESPN2’s coverage, with sideline reporters, superior graphics and replays, etc. I imagine its licensing rules that prevent Fox from taking the sky feed for epl matches while they do it (and seem to solve the “5 pm kickoff” UK commentary issues on the CL matches

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