ESPN Banks On TV Ratings In Appointment Of Ian Darke Over Martin Tyler For World Cup

ESPN’s announcement yesterday to appoint Ian Darke as lead commentator for the 2014 FIFA World Cup over Martin Tyler was a landmark decision by the self-acclaimed Worldwide Leader In Sports.

Both Darke and Tyler are accomplished commentators who have a wealth of experience announcing top-level matches. While Tyler is the senior of the two, having announced matches since the 1970s, Darke has been commentating since the 1980s. Both men have worked together in the past. Tyler was the lead commentator for Sky Sports when the satellite company launched its Premier League TV coverage in 1992. Darke was the number two announcer. And, judging by yesterday’s comment by Tyler in the press release, there’s a mutual respect between both professionals.

But that’s where the similarities end. Both commentators have dramatically different styles. Tyler is undoubtedly the world’s best commentator, offering a quieter delivery that builds until the climax of a goal is scored. Tyler uses his words carefully, and sometimes sounds like a poet delivering his lines, except it’s off the cuff as the live action unfolds. Tyler’s commentary is a fine art.

Darke is a more charismatic commentator, offering a style of announcing that feels more intimate and emotional. He talks a lot, and often spins in stories of British tabloid transfer rumors when the action on the pitch begins to stall. He’s more enthusiastic than Tyler. To me, Darke is more of a storyteller, telling you spellbinding stories and keeping you engaged throughout the 90 minutes of the match.

To be frank, ESPN was spoilt for choice. They had the option of choosing Tyler or Darke for their World Cup 2014 lead commentator, but chose the latter. From a business perspective, the appointment of Darke makes perfect sense. He’s loved by soccer fans in the United States. They’ve watched him fondly on Saturday mornings commentating Premier League matches when ESPN had the rights. He will forever be in US soccer folklore for his most famous call (Stateside, at least); see video below.

Plus, ESPN has been featuring Darke in many commentaries for US Men’s National Team games, leading up through qualification for the World Cup 2014 tournament. So there’s a built-in loyalty among US soccer fans toward Darke that is missing from Tyler, who we hear on commentaries in the United States once every two weeks if we’re fortunate.

For ESPN advertising sales and publicity, Darke sells soccer. He’s emotional. He’s effervescent. America has a love affair with Darke, where Darke has become more of a celebrity than a commentator, while Tyler can be dull particularly if matches drag on.

For everything that is perfect about Darke, and he’s certainly an excellent commentator, he’s too much of a cheerleader. He’s the type of commentator who will play to the audience rather than trying to give a more impartial, unbiased commentary like Tyler would (especially if it’s on a world feed). Darke thrives when the USMNT does well, which is one of the reasons why ESPN has selected Darke over Tyler. Darke will attract the USMNT fans and the EPL fans who loved watching games on Saturday mornings on ESPN. But, more importantly, Darke is more likely to attract new sports fans or casual sports fans, pulling them into the game and boosting TV ratings. And that’s what the bottom line is for ESPN. Deliver quality production and content, yes. But the TV ratings will need to hit the goals, to pacify advertisers and generate the revenue to thrive.

Ian Darke is the modern soccer commentator, who has a style that keeps attention-deficit viewers hooked, while knowing how to deliver exactly what ESPN wants, even if being a cheerleader for USMNT is going to unnerve the minority of the viewers who may be cheering for the other team.

While the Darke from a business perspective makes total sense for ESPN, my concern is what happens if the US Men’s National Team and England don’t reach the knockout stage of the World Cup 2014 tournament. I’d argue that a tournament without England and the US Men’s National Team in the Round of 16 and beyond favors Martin Tyler as a commentator over Ian Darke. Darke is very knowledgeable about England and the USMNT, but take him out of that equation, and Tyler is by far the more knowledgeable and gifted announcer. One of Darke’s frustrating traits is that he always pulls in references of the Premier League into his commentary even if neither team has little or nothing to do with England’s top flight league.

Not only was ESPN spoilt for choice between Tyler and Darke, but the US TV viewers who will be watching the World Cup this summer will be spoilt by Ian Darke behind the mic. As I said previously, he’s an accomplished commentator and will do well. But ultimately, as a hardcore soccer fan, I’m disappointed that ESPN has favored TV ratings in its decision making to select Darke instead of Tyler. As a business, I completely understand the decision. But as an art form, I’m envious of whichever media giant hires Tyler to be their lead commentator for this summer’s World Cup.

24 thoughts on “ESPN Banks On TV Ratings In Appointment Of Ian Darke Over Martin Tyler For World Cup”

  1. Horses for courses. Tyler is alright but he is not in the same league as some of the greats like john not son or Brian Moore. He’s also slowing down. I’ve always liked Darke who is an even better boxing commentator than he is at football. espn picked Darke because he out performed Tyler at the last World Cup. You are making something out of nothing.

    1. I don’t know if he is slowing down.. His style has changed since the beginning of the premier league. He definitely picks his moments for the big call ie Aguerrrrrrrooo
      When Martin Tyler’s voice changes you know you have just witnessed footballing history


    2. I’m honestly in disbelief reading some of thes comments criticizing Tyler and rampantly praising Darke. Tyler is the best in the business and always has been. He is the thinking mans commentator, astutue and observant, without ever resorting to cliches. His work gives commentary a professional air. Darke degenerated into a puppet for ESPN. In a way I’m glad Tyler didn’t commentate for ESPN this time around. It would be painful listening to him having to shill adverts for upcoming games every five minutes and lower himself. This comment above by Smokey Bacon is amateur time as a result. He must have never listened to Tyler like I have for 30 plus years.

  2. Ian Darke is a great choice. ESPN’s coverage of the world cup is A+.
    Lets not complain- until the 1992 world cup the only coverage in the US was on the Mexican network until the final.

  3. Yes for naming Ian Darke.
    Yes for not signing Martin Tyler and thank goodness, no vuvuzelas in Brazil (at least I hope not). The World Cup is again worth having the sound turned up full.

  4. Darke’s over emphasis on anything American always seemed distracting and forced when he commentated the BPL. Any player who might be playing against the USMNT got redundantly mentioned (“USA will have to watch out for Kenwyne Jones, who plays for Trinidad and Tobago.”) He did seem like a cheerleader. I’m sure that’ll continue with the World Cup. Martin Tyler seems to wax historic too much and gets a bit boring at times with the contant history . Still, he is the Shakespeare of football commentary and no-one describes a beautiful goal like his does.
    Darke and McManaman will be gold for ESPN though.

    1. Darke does work for ESPN, a US owned company. I get the feeling that rather than being a USMNT cheerleader, he is told to play to the US audience, which to me sometimes seems forced. I have also noticed that the British commentators on NBC also have been making more US related comments that would never be mentioned on British TV.

  5. Tyler was lousy. Boring as paint drying.

    Again this site and “writer” reflexively taking the pro-Brit eurosnob view.

    1. Maybe because you have the intellect of a flea you couldn’t understand the commentating genius that is Martin Tyler.

  6. It’s a real shame that we will not be hearing the best football commentator in the world. Tyler probably only has a couple of world cups left.That being said Sir Ian is still a quality announcer. I prefer Martin but ESPN can’t go wrong here

  7. Spot on chris! Wonderfull article! Don’t hear those guys criticizing yu. I think u.s.a, lost probably the best commentator of all time in the history of football. the man that every tv station is chasing, the man that every soccer fun dreams to listen. As you said i will keep on eye his next move and where ever he moves i will follow him. Simply martin tyler is legend! That we will never see again.

  8. Tyler will definitely be calling the World Cup with someone…probably Canada or Australia so he will just be a stream away.

    I agree with the article… There is a class to Tyler’s commentating that is just not matched by anyone out there right now. It’s a shame they both couldn’t have been commentating.. Regardless Darke is top quality, if we can’t have Martin the Ian is a fine replacement


  9. Like the author said. I think ESPN had an easy decision. Both are good commentators and would be a plus to the coverage.

  10. This is purely a business decision, and a smart one. Tylers’s the better announcer but Darke will do a better job bringing in those casual eyeballs.

  11. Don’t forget Darke’s incredible call of Abby Wambach’s 122′ goal against Brazil in the 2011 Women’s World Cup.

    I enjoy both commentators, but admit to being partial to Darke, and particularly him with Macca. They make the game entertaining and manage to suck in the casual viewer.

  12. That is an absolute terrible decision, but what can you can you expect from a country that always makes the worst decisions when it comes to this sport…

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