Eagle-eyed viewers of ESPN2’s Manchester United against Wolves live coverage on Saturday will have noticed the US debut of ESPN Arena, the virtual soccer analysis system that dazzled viewers in the UK in October.
Before the match kicked off, pundits Craig Burley and Steve McManaman stood in a UK studio and gave their analysis regarding Wayne Rooney’s changed role with Manchester United from a centre forward to a midfielder. The two pundits interacted with the ESPN Arena virtual pitch and flicked Wayne Rooney off the pitch and “into life” as a full-sized Wayne Rooney then stood up, arms folded and looking at the TV viewer.
Burley and McManaman continued to show off some of the other features of ESPN Arena such as players being able to run across the pitch, quadrants being illustrated on the pitch to show open spaces and much more. At one point, even, Wayne Rooney looked back over his shoulder at Burley and McManaman to remind them that he was listening intently to any criticism they may have been making.
The US debut of ESPN Arena was a success. There were technical glitches, and the technology itself has a ton of potential. There are other features that ESPN Arena can do that weren’t shown on Saturday (see EPL Talk’s article and videos on the technology), but the bottom line was that the debut was a success.
The key to the continued success of ESPN Arena will be using the technology, not for technology’s sake, but to explain tactics in such a convincing manner that ESPN Arena makes it easier for the viewer to comprehend. The example of Wayne Rooney’s changed role at United is something that most die-hard soccer fans are fully aware of, so the information shared wasn’t eyeopening. The ESPN Arena graphics were. Let’s hope ESPN can combine the eyeopening ESPN Arena technology with equally eyeopening tactical observations in the weeks and months to come.