ESPN’s Premier League Coverage On US TV Will Be Missed

The retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson last week and the subsequent extensive coverage reminded me just how far soccer has come here in the States. Since I began following soccer as a teenager some eight years ago, the sport wasn’t anywhere near the consciousness of the typical sports fan. Other than myself, there were only a few kids who played FIFA or even knew who someone like Alex Ferguson was. How things have changed. Today many Americans were abuzz with discussions on Fergie’s reign and United’s uncertain future.

But above all the other coverage the story received, it was the attention that ESPN’s SportsCenter gave it that really struck me. Here is the nation’s most important sports program, on its most important network, kicking off their hour of highlights and catchphrases by talking about the end of the tenure of a man whose presence the conscious of the typical American sports fan has only been cemented in the last five years.

Of course, none of this should come as that big of a shock. Sir Alex is not only the manager of the most famous name in the sport but also one of the greatest coaches of all-time. But everything aside, the coverage still brought a smile to my face when I realized that even the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” sees a world soccer story as noteworthy enough to feature on its signature show.

The sight of Gabriele Marcotti being interviewed by Hannah Storm also reminded me of a fact that gave me a more somber feeling: We are at the end of ESPN’s Premier League coverage (when it comes to live broadcasts). The network’s coverage of the league is much more than just what you see on TV, with writers like Marcotti giving American soccer fans insight you wouldn’t normally see. But it’s their on-air productions that have inspired considerable and deserving praise.

When ESPN got Premier League rights just before the 2009-10 season began, it was as if a dream was realized: finally, the biggest name in American sports media was making a huge investment in the game so many of us love. I don’t think I missed a game ESPN broadcasted that season, mainly due to the fact that their matches were shown in HD whereas FOX Soccer had yet to step into that vital medium.

Although ESPN’s magnificent 2010 World Cup coverage probably did more for the sport in the States than can be put into writing, the most important outcome of that summer was arguably the emergence of America’s soccer commentator, Ian Darke.

Darke’s broadcasts were excellent across the board, and his status as fan favorite was guaranteed because thanks to his call of Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria alone. He then became ESPN’s leading man on the microphone during EPL coverage, and once they hired the affable Steve McManaman the nation’s best commentary team was born.

Both seemed to know exactly how to approach the job of explaining the game they knew so well to an audience that included both novices and self-proclaimed experts. Darke always explained situations in great detail without ever coming across as condescending, while McManaman delivered formidable insights as a man who had seen and won almost everything, all paired with an unmistakable Merseyside accent.

But don’t take it from me. The duo has inspired fake Twitter accounts, nicknames, essentially their own cult, all because of the splendor of their broadcasts. The adoration the two men have received has grown even further in the wake of the consistently negative press FOX’s Gus Johnson experiment has received.

Darke will still be on American televisions to cover US men’s national team games and the 2014 World Cup, but nothing will be able to compare to these past three years when we’d wake up early on Saturday mornings to watch matches that – however dull they might have been – became compulsory viewing due to the voices of two Englishmen.

Who knows, maybe ESPN will acquire the next batch of Premier League rights, and the dream team of Darke and McManaman will return. Today though, their wonderful run is over, and thanks especially to a hilarious compilation that ESPN put together after Sunday’s game, memories of their time as talking heads are guaranteed to be delightful nostalgia.

So, I for one would like to thank Messrs. Darke and McManaman for making the beautiful game a sight not only to behold, but one to hear. Here’s to hoping that NBC’s coverage can live up to one of its predecessors, and that we’ll be seeing Ian and Macca together on our screens sooner rather than later. In the meantime, bye for now.

24 thoughts on “ESPN’s Premier League Coverage On US TV Will Be Missed”

  1. In my opinion, ESPN’s coverage got better and better with each broadcast. They really did a great job.

    I’m not a fan of the way ESPN handles some of their other sports, but they made a conscientious effort to cater their telecasts towards football/soccer fans.

    1. Ian Darke is the best and, yes, he will be missed on those early morning PL matches.
      A complaint I had with ESPN was when they were doing an PL game and other PL games were on at the same time. They usually would give scores of other games in progress–games that I might be DVRing on FSC to watch later. So, I would watch the FSC match and then watch the ESPN game on DVR.
      For the most part, Darke and McManaman were excellent together although McManaman seemed to merely say, “Yeah” to much of what Darke would say instead of offering his own comment or a dissenting viewpoint.

  2. I thought ESPN did an excellent job with it all. They look better than Fox in their presentation. The commentary team was excellent (something Fox may want to take note of) and they didn’t have lots of inane nonsense chat at half time and in the pre-game like Fox (and sometimes Sky) do. They ran features, they used their timeslot wisely and they were terrific at getting their content online for ESPN subscribers (a model I am hoping NBC emulate).

    I’ll definitely miss their coverage and am thankful they have one more World Cup.

    1. This is something that ESPN did an excellent job of: they understand that sometimes less is more. Cut all the nonsense with pre-game shows where the commentators are more than happy to hear their own voice and just bring the atmosphere.
      Darke and McManaman are extremely knowledgeable that they meshed well with the game.

  3. I really appreciated ESPN’s coverage of the EPL. I can still remember my excitement getting up to watch Chelsea/Hull City for ESPN’s very 1st match in the states.

    As many have said ESPN was very conscientious with their approach to how they delivered the match to us.

    I hope their WC2014 presentation picks up right where 2010 left off. By bringing in top talent for their WC studio shows and matches. Specifically, changing up the USA color voice and studio analyst. I always found it mind numbing that ESPN must force the issue of an american voice when there doesn’t seem to be a huge need for one. Here is one vote for Ian and Macca calling USA matches!

    Personally, If there must be a American voice in the booth or studio I’d really like to see Brian McBride move over to ESPN and be that guy. He’s was a bit shy at first, but by mid season this year he was the star of the Fox presentation.

    1. I was so freaking excited that day. It was the first time I had seen a premier league game in HD, and might I say, it was spectacular.

  4. Am hoping that NBC would pick up both Ian Darke and Macca. And agree with your sentiment, they both will be missed, should they not be broadcasting together somewhere else.

    ESPN also surpasses FOX’s studio commentating as well as the game coverages. It’s not only Gus Johnson that’s not working out with Fox’s coverage. The most of FOX studio anal-ysts, esp. Whine-alda, have been disappointing, and FOX does not care even though fans have been complaining about them via media and social media. Exemplifies the narcissistic attitude of FOX and its commentators and anal-ysts.

    1. Darke and Macca have already signed on with BT, I think, so there’s no way NBC can hire them now. I agree that these two would have been great to have on NBC.

  5. I will definitely miss them. I’m fairly familiar with most of the commentators’ voices and styles and to me they are my favorite duo.

  6. The only 2 things espn did wrong was:

    1. Alexi Lalas. The WORST PUNDIT EVER. On the Euro 2012 pundit panel the other guys were almost laughing at his statements.

    2. Taylor Twellman as a color analyst. We thought it was great that John Harkes was no longer going to be the analyst for USA games, til we sat thru one game of Twellman.

    Luckily neither of these guys came near a Prem broadcast, but for Euro 2012 and some other games on the continent, they were in way over their head.

  7. Shame NBC didn’t scoop up Darke and Macca immediately after they got the rights. I really enjoyed listening to them. They made a great duo! They will be missed.

  8. I agree with this article, you should have mentioned about their excellent online presence, but otherwise great.

  9. I really liked the Darke/Macca pairing. Informative, respectful of the game, all without veering into blustering buffoonery. Macca may be the best ex player turned color analyst ever.

    And don’t hold this against me, I like Alexi Lalas. He’s got an opinion, backs it up, and knows how to speak. Infinitely more interesting than the little yip yip puppy Taylor Twellman (who’s getting better, granted).

  10. ESPN showed stadiums from the outside, streets the supporters walk, and postgame player reactions. Fox was in a hurry to get back to the studio as soon as the whistle blew. ESPN’s production was much better and Darkie and Macca’s pre and post game analysis was second to none. Never thought I’d say this but I’ll miss ESPN.

  11. First off, fantastic article. Nice writing, Grant.

    ESPN did a fantastic job with its production of the Prem. I’ve got a feeling it will only get better with NBC.

  12. Great piece. Ian and Macca became a great broadcast team. I can listen over and over to Ian’s call of the final minutes of the 2010 Algeria match and never become bored.

    For us USA EPL fans the ESPN’s commitment became a sign of our own accomplishments as fans. Our devotion and almost religious like attachment became accepted by the public as whole if ESPN was on board.

    Looking back ESPN’s commitment lead to it’s own and FSC’s downfall last year when NBC bought the rights. The earlier financial commitments of both networks where limited and neither was prepared to pay in a sense for their own success.

    The US TV sports scene has recently exploded with NBC and Fox stepping up to the plate with major networks. It is tough to say good by to ESPN and FSC but soccer coverage in the US has moved on. Frankly I still miss the Saturday morning chat’s moderated by the Gaffer with people from a multide of nations joining in but time moves on.

    See you on NBC.

  13. First of all–Grant wonderful article and well put.

    I love Darke and Macca and whole ESPN production for their EPL games. I hate to compare it to the NFL, but the ESPN games always felt like the old Monday Night Football games to me. The production was a higher level, it had the same announcing team each week, just the right build up to the game and you watched the game no matter the teams.

    I think that one would have to list Darke and McManaman is one of the best (top 5?)broadcast teams in all of US national sports coverage right now, though none better come straight to mind. I will miss them.

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