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How EPL Fans In The US Are Losing The Element Of Surprise


For all of the stick that ESPN gets for displaying their annoying ticker on the bottom of the screen during Premier League matches on ESPN2, I feel that Setanta Sports gets an easy ride for how they handle the situation, while Fox Soccer Channel is ignored.

Let me explain.

During the matches that Setanta Sports show on Saturdays at 10am ET, the broadcast routinely uses its “Game Flash” (sometimes known as “Score Flash”) feature in the top left corner to display the latest scores from the other matches. While ESPN’s ticker is easier to block out (either by not looking at that part of the screen, raising a hand to block it from your sight or placing tape across the bottom of your TV set), at least ESPN gives you a warning that the ticker is going to appear so you can be prepared. With Setanta’s Game Flash feature, the scorelines from other matches pop up with no warning.

For example, while watching this past Saturday’s match between Stoke City and Manchester United on Setanta US, I was annoyed to see the Game Flash feature popping up several times during the broadcast to reveal the latest scores of several games including Liverpool’s thrashing of Hull City, and Tottenham’s hammering of Burnley. For me, it ruined my plan of watching the Liverpool against Hull City game later.

In Setanta’s defense, the reason it shows the Game Flash feature is because it’s what Setanta Ireland shows. And in order for Setanta subscribers in the US to watch the pre-match and half-time analysis by Paul Dempsey and Pat Dolan, Setanta US has to use the Setanta Ireland feed.

Nevertheless, for all of the flack that ESPN gets for including its annoying ticker, I feel that Setanta avoids getting criticized a lot probably because they have far fewer viewers and, as a result, far fewer people who watch the games and complain.

In my opinion, the soccer network that gets overlooked and ignored regarding the whole ticker/Game Flash controversy is the one who handles it in the best manner, Fox Soccer Channel. The network learned the hard way during the 2006/2007 Premier League season when it used a ticker during Premier League games. At the time, Fox received a ton of angry e-mails from viewers. And then made the smart decision to not use a ticker during its Premier League games thereby not ruining the surprise factor for soccer fans in the United States who timeshift and watch games on delay.

With more and more TV coverage available to us than anytime in the history of soccer in the United States, it’s becoming increasingly difficult not to find out the scores of the games before you watch matches on delay. All it takes is one commentator (thank you Tim White), a quick look at the Internet or Twitter, an inconsiderate co-worker or a TV network that doesn’t understand or care how soccer fans experience their games on television (ESPN) to ruin it for you. There’s nothing worse than watching a soccer game when you know what the final score is, which sucks all of the excitement out of a game. I guess all we can do right now is persevere and not complain too much. Beggars can’t be choosers, right?

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  1. CA_backpacker

    October 5, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    Actually, I am pretty good now of not looking at the ticker or when something pops on the top left of the screen. But there are still so many ways you can have surprise ruined. The announcer opens his big mouth. The wife insists on listening to BBC on our satellite radio. A friend says something.

    All we can do is our best to tune out any place we’d have a score sprung on us. We can’t watch all the games at once, but thank god we can do it one at a time with DVR’s!!

  2. Fan

    October 1, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Think about the origin of the term “spoiler” for a minute. Grow up. The world of sports is not created for people who feel a compulsion to watch every game on their own terms. Is the BBC Radio crew bad then for having a go around the scores in the country during Sports World? Are stadiums ruining things for people by announcing scores?

    Babies, the lot of you.

    • The Gaffer

      October 1, 2009 at 11:42 am

      Fan, the examples you list are totally different from what we’re talking about. If you’re listening to BBC Radio, you have different expectations. One, you’re probably not watching the games on television. Two, you probably don’t have games taped on your DVR. Three, you’re listening to BBC Radio because you want to find out what the scores are.

      There’s a similar expectation when you’re in the stadium. You’re living in the moment and experiencing the game – and you’re likely to want to know what the scores are from the other games.

      What I’m talking about is a different experience. Someone who works or is away with their family and returns to his or her home and wants to watch the games that are recorded without knowing what the final results are. It’s a totally different experience.

      The Gaffer

  3. forweg

    September 30, 2009 at 3:15 am

    I agree with the gripes about FSC’s ads, they’re getting out of hand. I wouldn’t care about little crap in the corner, but huge, flashing banners scrolling across the bottom of the screen every couple minutes is too much. I don’t remember it being this bad in the past.

    And the ticker is annoying, but I’ve been shocked by how well ESPN has treated their EPL coverage. The best part is how they don’t cut away a half a millisecond after the final whistle.

    Lastly, don’t you guys realize that the early kickoffs stop happening fairly early in the season? By my calculation, the majority of ESPN2’s games this year will be at 10 am.

  4. TT

    September 29, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    No tickers here, if there were I’d just cover up the very bottom bit of the telly with an Everton scarf. Finally find some use for it.

    Mind you the imbeciles at J Sports failed to show Citeh v W Ham til 11pm Tues night, fat chance of avoiding the score til then.

  5. Jay

    September 29, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    I dont watch EPL matches on tape delay but the ESPN Bottomline is annoying. The goal flash is definitely a problem for those that watch matches on tape delay. I can understand your gripe.

  6. The Gaffer

    September 29, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    If you’re watching a 10am Saturday match on ESPN2 and recording a game on FSC or Setanta, and the ticker on ESPN2 tells you what the score is for the FSC and Setanta games, then you’re less likely to watch the games later on FSC or Setanta because you already know what the final result is.

    The Gaffer

    • Grant

      September 29, 2009 at 9:05 pm

      Gaffer, your point about the matches being spoiled is a valid one indeed. My point is that it seems you have routinely taken umbrage with the fact that there is a ticker at all, which, at least to me, is a silly nit to pick.

      You can call ESPN and tell them to stop spoiling other soccer results, and they will. They used to show the scores of games they were showing on tape delay ON THE BROADCAST OF THE TAPE DELAYED GAME! They don’t do that anymore (partly because they lost the UEFA Champions League rights, so every match they show anymore is live), but my guess is that if you simply got everyone at EPL Talk to make a stink to ESPN about it, they would stop.

      The point I’m trying to make is that they will never do away with the ticker entirely, nor should they have to. Furthermore, I wouldn’t be suprised if, should ESPN ever get the full rights to the Premier League, they will make use of the same ploys already on FSC, i.e. advertising bugs and banners. If we have to put up with something as small as a pop up advertisement every now and again to get the best footy on the planet on HD for millions of people in the U.S., then that is what we’re going to have to do.

      Mainstream American sports seem to make do just fine. You couldn’t watch a baseball game or college football game on TBS a couple of years ago without seeing nine ads every hour for House of Pain or Frank TV or whatever, but nobody made a big stink because mainstream sports fans understand that the game has to be profitable for the network to broadcast it. Why should soccer fans in the States be any different? These networks are used to airing games with lots of commercials, and that is the business model they are set up for. The sooner you accept that the better off you’ll be.

      • The Gaffer

        September 29, 2009 at 9:33 pm

        Grant, I would prefer ESPN not use the ticker. But if they do continue to use the ticker, all I ask is that they don’t display the results from other soccer games. They can mention scores from baseball, gridiron football, hockey, basketball, lacrosse or any other sport, but I ask that they please not ruin the experience for soccer fans who are taping other games that are happening at the same time.

        The Gaffer

        • Grant

          September 30, 2009 at 8:17 am

          That’s perfectly fine. Like I said, I was much annoyed by it myself while watching Arsenal’s run to the 2006 UEFA Champions League Final. I just think you’re deluding yourself if you think they’re ever going to stop the ticker entirely. Let me put it this way, I would much rather have the ticker than the “SportsCenter Updates” they do during MLS games.

    • ovalball

      September 29, 2009 at 9:32 pm

      No argument, but that will in no way “hurt the TV ratings for Fox and Setanta.”

  7. LB

    September 29, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    This is ridiculous. First, we complain for years to get soccer on widespread US TV, and now we’re griping about score tickers? What’s next, Gaffer?

    • The Gaffer

      September 29, 2009 at 2:30 pm

      By including the ticker on ESPN2’s coverage of Premier League games, it hurts the TV ratings for Fox and Setanta. Many people won’t watch games if they know the score. Imagine if you had two movies recorded and while you were watching one, a ticker popped up and told you the ending to the other movie. Would you watch that other movie? Probably not.

      Keep up the excellent discussion guys.

      The Gaffer

      • Dave G

        September 29, 2009 at 3:11 pm

        hmmmmm that’s an interesting way of looking at it Gaffer

      • ovalball

        September 29, 2009 at 5:13 pm

        Lost me on this one, Gaffer. If I am watching on ESPN2 then I am of course not on either of the other two (unless I have a 2nd set going), ticker or no ticker. If I have a second match going to DVR then it is, in effect, being *watched* (same with the movies). Can’t see that the ticker has anything to do with it.

        Mole hill out of a mole hill.

  8. Grant

    September 29, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    I completely understand how annoying it is that there are scores on ESPN’s ticker to games you want to watch later, but it seems that most of you are upset that there’s a ticker at all. I don’t understand this. There are tickers on all sorts of channels from sports to news, and they don’t in and of themselves detract from the viewing experience.

    For what it’s worth, I was one of many people who called up ESPN a few years ago when they would show the scores of UEFA Champions League games on the ticker. This was before the 2006 World Cup, so they were only showing one or two games each matchday, and I found myself watching the Arsenal games while having to deal with the ticker giving me the score to the game I was watching. This was annoying, and as soon as people made a fuss, they stopped showing those scores, especially since it prevented people from watching games on their networks. The same went for the games they would show on delay on ESPN Classic.

    As for the ad banners on FSC broadcasts, I agree that they can be annoying, but the bottom line is that these networks have to make the games profitable for them to want to show them. Football doesn’t have tons of commercial breaks like other sports, and since you can fastforward through the commercials on at halftime all in one block, those have less value than all of the advertising spots available for NFL, NBA, MLB, et. al. games. If we want ESPN to keep backing the sport, we might have to put up with advertising bugs like they have on FSC, or even advertising banners popping up now and again. Its the price we pay for having lots of footy on TV, and, at least where I sit, that seems like a small price to pay indeed.

    • Duke

      September 29, 2009 at 2:14 pm

      Well said, Grant. Quite simply, ESPN, FSC, et. al. are in it to make money, and that means advertising. It can be annoying, but without it, you wouldn’t be getting your EPL.

  9. Dave G

    September 29, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    hee hee hee…ahhhhhhh I remember when I had to beg my mother to let me eat sunday dinner in the front room so I could watch The Big Match or else I would not see any football on TV again until the next saturday (or midweek on sportsnight if we were lucky and allowed to stay up 😉
    Ahhh yes…the good old days!

    • nssf04

      September 29, 2009 at 2:48 pm

      I find the ticker really annoying during a live game — especially if it is showed constantly. The ESPN2 ticker was a revelation when it was first employed, so at least the distraction and the shrinking of the screen for the actual game had a payoff, but it’s an anachronism now. Once every 30 minutes wouldn’t be that bad, I guess.

      If there’s a particular score that I want, it is much, much faster to find it on my cellphone or computer than wait for the ticker to run through about eight different sports to get to the game that I want to know about.

      ESPN will deploy the ticker in most cases, however, because they use it to promote their programming. It’s great that they are broadcasting EPL games in HD, but it comes with the downside that ESPN is a family of networks geared to the attention spans of 12-year-olds.

      The worst ESPN feature of its game telecasts is the SportsCenter in-game breaks. Even with a lot of stoppages of play in sports like basketball, this will occur during live game action, and, most infuriating, you’ll often see three or four of the exact same break-ins during a game.

      I’ve limited my ESPN viewing so much that writing this post has reminded me how much I hate the Four Letter. Heh. Sorry for long-winded rant.

  10. Patrick Johnson

    September 29, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    What a bunch of whiny crybabies.

    You do realize that the feed is the Setanta Ireland feed. Last time I checked, they get two games max at 3pm and none on replay. The only way for the Irish fans to get the scores live is to…oops show the scoreline. Oh the horror.

    No the US fans have not lost the element of surprised, they have quickly become the biggest spoiled brats in the history of football. We want it this way, it has to be that way. If you don’t get your way, you throw your toys straight out of the pram kicking and screaming ‘IT’S NOT FAIR’. Well guess what, TOUGH LUCK!

    It’s not all about the scoreline. How were the goals scored, how was the build play? How big of an advantage did a particular team have? Was the game as close as the scoreline?

    What an embarrassment of a blog post. Pathetic, and a giant waste of time for anyone who has a brain.

    • Gaz

      September 29, 2009 at 2:02 pm

      I think “spoiled” would be more accurate if US viewers wanted features added for their benefit. This, however, is not that case. We’re asking for a feature to be removed. We want less. 🙂

      It is a valid point – even though you are being condescending about it – we have it pretty damn good here. We have access to basically all the games! This is a nice problem to have compared to how it used to be in the country.

      • The Gaffer

        September 29, 2009 at 2:08 pm

        A question… what do we gain by having scores for other matches shown during games? Yes, if you live in Ireland and you’re watching Setanta Ireland, there is much to gain. But for the rest of us living around the world, what does the viewer or ESPN gain when they show a latest score on the ticker?

        If we want to know the score, all it takes is a quick look on a mobile phone or on the Internet.

        To me, there’s more to lose (i.e. a pissed off soccer fan) than there is to gain.

        The Gaffer

        • Gaz

          September 29, 2009 at 11:12 pm

          Well I can think of one viewer that would gain by this (and I admit to playing the devil’s advocate here). The average (see: non-hardcore) viewer that does not pay the extra subscription fees for Setanta-i or Fox Soccer Channel. This viewer would only have access to “basic” cable – thus ESPN2 as his only window. He or she may not take the time to go on the internet or mobile but would be interested in knowing the scores of the other games.

          We’re bringing the game to a wider audience, right?

          We have to remember here that there are people out there that aren’t into it enough to pay an extra $10 or $15 / month but still have a mild interest.

          That said, it pisses me off to all hell when they do it.

  11. John

    September 29, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Some dude from Setanta USA was interviewed on here a while ago and said there was nothing they could do about the mid-game “Goal Flash” updates because it’s usually an Irish feed of the EPL games coming to the U.S.

  12. ovalball

    September 29, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    I understand those who “don’t want to know”, but I will watch a match for which I already know the score. It really depends on my interest level for a particular match. I still want to see how and why it happened.

    At any rate, isn’t this a terrible problem to have? Too many matches being broadcast on too many channels/platforms. What ever happened to the good old days? 😉

  13. TheFatPanda

    September 29, 2009 at 11:04 am

    When choosing which games to watch or record last Saturday, I purposely chose Liverpool-Hull on FSC and Chelsea-Wigan on setantaXtra because I knew both of those channels don’t report scores from other games (if you skip halftime on FSC. Then, I could watch Man U-Stoke after the early games were finished on delay as if it were live while Arsenal-Fulham played on the other TV live.

    So, while having two TV’s at my disposal, Setanta is almost always the one that I skip first since they will spoil the other 5-6 games being played at that time.

  14. JR

    September 29, 2009 at 10:59 am

    I’m getting FSC on the “free look” this month on Dish. I can’t stand it — too many commercials and other crap during the game. I can easily ignore the scores on Setanta, becasue they are small. The damn FSC commercials overwhelm the screen. Give me Setanta any day.

  15. The Gaffer

    September 29, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Personally I believe the issue is that ESPN doesn’t understand (or doesn’t care) how most football supporters follow the Premier League in the United States.

    We all experience it in different ways. Some live, some on DVR. But many of us try purposefully not to know the final scores so we can watch the games without the experience being ruined.

    It hasn’t been an issue up to this point because most of the games ESPN2 have been showing are the early kickoffs when there are no other games on at the same time. If/when ESPN gets a bigger portion of the 10am ET EPL matches in future years, there will be a big backlash.

    Fox Soccer Channel understands the issue and treats the average soccer fan with more respect.

    The Gaffer

  16. The Gaffer

    September 29, 2009 at 10:44 am

    The interesting revelation here is that I’ll probably watch the games recorded on Setanta Sports last because they’re the matches that are most likely to reveal the scores from the other games.

    The Gaffer

  17. geraldinho

    September 29, 2009 at 10:36 am

    not everyone can watch all those matches live on saturdays. this applies to me the most when i have recorded matches to watch later on dvr. you want to be able to watch all of them without knowing the scores, but very often the first one you choose to watch better be the one you want to surprised about because inevitably you’ll see the scores flashed for all matches being played at the same time. for example, if there is a good 10am match on fsc and setanta at the same time and i had to work so record both, when i start watching the first one i will always see the score of the other one that i was hoping to watch fresh later on. the only way to avoid it is to be at the pub while these matches are being played live so that you can watch both at the same time. i guess american football fans must have the same issues on sundays too, but if they could just hold off on the goal flashes or mentions of other scores that would be great. same thing applies to champions league. who is home during the day to watch it in the us? not many i would guess, so i record them, and with directv now having all of the games on it is great, but today for example i am recording both the arsenal match and the liverpool match and being a gunner fan i am going to watch that one first, but i’m sure i will see the score of the liverpool match flashed and therefore probably won’t even watch that one.

  18. V

    September 29, 2009 at 10:34 am

    can’t agree more, another problem i have is to consciously not surf any epl/sports web sites during weekday game days after the games start. Otherwise watching the game when i get home gets ruined.

  19. dstorm

    September 29, 2009 at 10:33 am

    How great was it not to see any sort of ticker running across the ESPN2 broadcast of the Man City – West Ham game? This is unheard of for ESPN2, so there must be some feedback making its way to Bristol, Connecticut regarding viewing preferences for soccer fans.

    Gaffer, any idea why ESPN does not apply this same methodology to La Liga broadcasts, which have the constant ticker on the bottom of the screen? Why do they only remove it for EPL games?

    Generally speaking, score updates / break-ins are a way of life in the US. You are receiving constant updates of other games on all networks while viewing the NFL, college football, and most other sports. The idea that a viewer may view a different game later and doesn’t want the result spoiled seems to be fairly unique to soccer.

    • The Gaffer

      September 29, 2009 at 10:45 am

      The broadcast was from ESPN UK, so I believe that is why there was no ticker at the bottom of the screen. All of the Premier League games shown on Saturday mornings on ESPN2 show the ticker.

      The Gaffer

      • dstorm

        September 29, 2009 at 11:09 am

        Gaffer, even if the broadcast originates from ESPN UK, ESPN2 could put a ticker on the bottom, no? (similar to ESPN Deportes broadcasts featuring La Liga?) And the Saturday morning broadcast only brings up the ticker every 20 to 30 minutes, where as La Liga games get the ‘constant’ ticker treatment.

        It’s clear to me that somebody at ESPN (US side) understands this and is choosing to limit it’s use (or not show it at all as was the case for Man City – West Ham). So then why not for La Liga?

        With the availability of all the wireless devices, ESPN News, twitter, etc. the ticker has long outlived it’s time in the US. Would love to see it disappear completely. It’s nice to be able to view a game without it.

        • The Gaffer

          September 29, 2009 at 11:18 am

          I seem to remember that when ESPN showed their first Monday night game of the season in the US with Liverpool v Aston Villa, they had the ticker running — but it ran over the graphics that ESPN UK were showing behind it — and it looked quite unprofessional. That’s maybe why they decided not to run the ticker on the Monday broadcast. It’s easier from a production point-of-view.

          The Gaffer

      • Duke

        September 29, 2009 at 2:07 pm

        I think this might have something to do with the fact that the game was played in the middle of the day on a Monday. There weren’t even any MLB games on at that time.

        ESPN does relentlessly pimp the NFL scores, and it wouldn’t have surprised me to to see them on screen during the Man City – West Ham match, but maybe they figured there wasn’t enough interest in that from their EPL audience.

        I would guess that any time there are other games being played, regardless of league or sport, you’re going to see the ESPN ticker at the bottom of the screen.

  20. Chris

    September 29, 2009 at 10:24 am

    @ Dave G, Are you in the United States ?…how did you get BBC1 ?..anyhow I am good at ignoring the ESPN Ticker…no big deal…I dont have Setanta , So I dont have to worry about that. But If its a 1-0 finish or a 2-0 finish it ruins the game for me and there is no need for me to watch it since I already know what the score is. But When its a 4-0 or 4-1, 5-1 or something like this, I will watch the games rather I know what the score is or not.

    • Dave G

      September 29, 2009 at 12:54 pm

      Chris, and any other expats that want to watch MOTD
      send me an e-mail
      Dave G

  21. Dave G

    September 29, 2009 at 10:06 am

    I dunno…I actually like getting the scores updated on Setanta, mainly because the commentators will chat about them as they happen…I HATE any ticker on the bottom, but don’t mind the box updates as the goals come in on the top left
    The ticker is annoying, score updates are good to know and add to the excitement
    If you are taping a game…well, it’s tough luck, but I prefer to watch my 8am ESPN followed by my 10 am Setanta or FSC game and if there are 2 games worth watching I will have the other one on the Computer playing at the same time
    No need to tape and watch later…I usually get to watch the most important game to me
    Then along comes the 12:30 FSC game or ESPN360 Championship match
    All this is finished off nicely with Match of the Day on BBC1 at 5:30pm, highlights and BBC commentary on every game that day
    Top notch

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