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ESPN Raises the Bar With Premier League Coverage In United States

ESPN today significantly raised the bar today on the quality of Premier League coverage in the United States. Their early kickoff between Manchester City and Chelsea was a turning point for a few different reasons. First, the game featured one of the top English commentators, Ian Darke, broadcasting exclusively to a U.S. audience. Second, the pre-game, half-time and post-match analysis was broadcast live from a studio in London featuring ESPN UK presenter Rebecca Lowe and analyst Steve McManaman. Third and finally, the quality of the production from the studio was exquisite, featuring a segment on Dimitar Berbatov and a level of analysis that is far more in-depth to what we’re accustomed to hearing in this country.

ESPN’s new-and-improved packaging of the Premier League shows the commitment that the broadcaster is making to increase the quality of its coverage, which will hopefully lead to higher TV ratings. The move by ESPN is a logical choice since it will hopefully attract a U.S. audience who were spoiled by a near-perfect World Cup production and then bring them into familiar surroundings for Premier League games courtesy of Darke and McManaman. It’s a perfect way for ESPN to capitalize on all of the goodwill they earned from its World Cup coverage and to carry that into the rest of the Premier League season and beyond.

Despite the plaudits, many EPL Talk readers complained Saturday morning that the quality of the HD transmission of the game itself was not as crisp as the international feed. Hopefully this is something that ESPN can improve in future weeks.

As for Ian Darke’s role as a commentator for the game, he didn’t dumb down his commentary for the U.S. viewing audience, which was pleasing to hear. When he had an opportunity, he provided some background for UK matters such as explaining the distance between London and Manchester, and mentioning who Ashley Cole’s wife is. But all in all, Darke kept his focus on the game itself and provided an impressive commentary as he usually does. He was aided by co-commentator Stewart Robson.

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  1. Casey G.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:38 am

    just out of curiosity is the ESPN UK broadcasts for Premier League games still the same as it was from last year with Ray Stubbs presenting in-studio, Rebecca Lowe reporting from pitch-sid,e and Jon Champion as the lead announcer?? i know they don’t have the Monday Night games anymore that’s why..

  2. Josh

    September 29, 2010 at 3:04 am

    Quote from the article:
    “many EPL Talk readers complained Saturday morning that the quality of the HD transmission of the game itself was not as crisp as the international feed.”

    This has happened many times before on ESPN2 games. They usually have trouble getting a real HD feed for whatever reason, so about half of the time we end up with a 16:9 upconverted SD feed for ESPN2 games. That’s why it doesn’t look as good as FSC or FS+ sometimes. It would be about on the same level as what Formula 1 broadcasts look like for anyone who watches those.

    I agree, I have to give ESPN some big time credit for their coverage. Now they have Manchester United 10am ET games twice this month, which is great for me because otherwise I wouldn’t get those games (I’m a United fan). Darke is an alright commentator, I personally prefer Martin Tyler and Alan Parry, but its the production quality and the studio show that make the broadcast great. Now ESPN should hire Charlotte Jackson from Sky Sports News to present their coverage and it would be perfect.

  3. Badger

    September 27, 2010 at 8:57 am

    Ian Darke will wear thin real quick.

  4. Panda

    September 26, 2010 at 12:44 am

    Here’s something I’ve been wondering…is the US the only country to have their own specific coverage of the Premier League aside from England? Correct me if I’m wrong, but ESPN had Ian Darke on site and they had their own cameras there. Even the studio show originated from the UK.

    • Panda

      September 26, 2010 at 12:47 am

      Sidenote: It was really the little things that made the coverage so good…like not using the metric system and acknowledging it was morning and not a lunch time kickoff.

      I love Sky’s presentation of the Premier League, but ESPN can really revolutionize how the sport is presented. In limited use, I hope they bring sideline reporting and also can’t wait for a pre game show live in the stadium.

    • The Gaffer

      September 26, 2010 at 7:25 am

      I believe so Panda, but as far as I know, the TV feed of the game came from the international feed, not ESPN cameras. Everything else is correct.

      The Gaffer

      • Panda

        September 26, 2010 at 6:26 pm

        Hmmm…you’re probably right, but I could have sworn they were cutting to extra angles IMG never uses. ESPN UK usually adds a few cameras to games they broadcast. Hopefully it’s something they will explore in the future…I’d love to see the sky cam used more for football broadcasts.

  5. JC

    September 25, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    Great job by ESPN today, there seems to be a promising future of quality coverage ahead. When they started airing the EPL i was a huge skeptic, thinking they’d likely try to “Americanize” the coverage. Instead, they’ve gone the complete opposite direction. As someone who DVRs the matches due to my timezone (pst), i usually pick the two best, regardless of channel. Now I’ll be more likely to DVR the ESPN match no matter what.

  6. Kimo C.

    September 25, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    It’s like night and day when comparing the production values of FSC to ESPN. From the sets; lighting; and technology available for breaking down coverage, ESPN is clearly head and shoulders above FOX in all regards. The discrepancy and distance between the two broadcasts is almost at an embarrassing level now.

    • chris

      September 25, 2010 at 6:34 pm

      the EPL would have the same production value as ESPN on Versus which will soon be partnered with NBCU once the Comcast merger is over

      • Jeff

        September 25, 2010 at 8:00 pm

        Can you explain what you mean by this? What does this merger have to do with the EPL? I’m not being a smart a##, I’m just trying to understand your point.

        • sucka99

          September 27, 2010 at 7:55 am

          I suppose In case the new NBC Sports/Telemundo/Comcast/Versus behemoth decides to get into the World Cup/MLS/EPL/Champions League rights bidding game.

  7. AG1989

    September 25, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    Ashley Cole’s former wife.*

    Cheryl Cole is now Cheryl Tweedy again.

  8. Oryp23

    September 25, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Loved the coverage this morning. The studio coverage was top notch. Really look forward to more ESPN coverage.

  9. farlieonfootie

    September 25, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Ian Darke is absolutely fantastic and a welcome addition to the US announcing scene. With Ray Hudson, Phil Schoen and Tommy Smyth all calling games, I have to believe we have some of the best announcing available in the soccer world over here in the US now….!

    • Josh

      September 29, 2010 at 2:56 am

      Are you seriously saying that Smyth is one of the best in the world? If anything he is an eample of the worst football commentator in the wolrd (FWIW the worst team would be Tim White and Tommy Smyth). Schoen is great (I’d take most Sky/ESPN UK/BBC guys over him, but he is better than the La Liga international feed guys), and Hudson is okay, but Smyth is simply horrible.

  10. eplnfl

    September 25, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    Is this the first of ESPN’s new broadcast team and presentation or just an rare use of the UK feed?

    • Nick

      September 25, 2010 at 9:36 pm

      This was the first of ESPN’s new broadcast team and commentators. I was astonished how great the coverage was this morning, it was nearly level with Sky Sports despite having to take more breaks. If they bring a few more analysts in & keep getting more post-match interviews I’d say about even.

    • sucka99

      September 27, 2010 at 7:52 am

      They used to use the ESPN UK broadcast for the Monday games (and one Saturday game due to a rights bartering with Sky) when they had the UK rights last season. Ray Stubbs and 2 analysts in the studio and Rebecca Lowe down in the tunnel before they walk out, and on the sidelines during the game and Jon Champion calling the game. Since the UK and US/Caribbean times don’t match up this season, there’s no crossover – hence Darke able to reference that it was morning.

      Anyone watch the broadcast on ESPN Deportes to see how different it was?

  11. Chris

    September 25, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Any Recent EPL tv ratings or even MLS? It’s been a while

  12. Dave G

    September 25, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    It was top notch stuff!
    I know they have to pay the bills, but I really wish they would run the ads for 5 minutes and let Rebecca and Macca talk a bit longer at half time…seemed a bit rushed with them having to go to 3 or 4 ad breaks during the ht segment

  13. Alan Knut

    September 25, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    A long wait for someone as impatient as I. Just imagine all of the games on While it may be prohibitive for some due to ESPN3 only working for people with certain ISPs, I think it being free is much more appealing to myself and potentially others. ESPN3 is going to debut on XBox Live this Autumn/Winter and I think there are plans to bring it to the PS3 as well. All free with a Gold Membership($59 a year). Hopefully this will mean higher quality as I would think they would tailor the resolution for the television sets they’d be played on instead of on computer screens.

    Also… I’m going to throw it out there; ESPN Soccer Channel. How great would that be? I think they own the rights to La Liga as well, but I’m not sure of that. At the very least, they show a lot of La Liga on ESPN Deportes, which is $24 a month from Comcast…

    • Casey G.

      September 25, 2010 at 9:22 pm

      i think its been rumoured a few years ago when the Premier League rights were up for bidding (for this current deal) before but the idea would have to start with ESPN buying out GolTV just to have the rights to an amount of soccer coverage, then they would really be able to create a fully dedicated soccer channel, which I think would have been called ESPN Ocho, so in that situation ESPN deportes could be used as a secondary outlet much like Fox Sports en Espanol or Fox Soccer Plus is being used right now when multiple games are being shown live at the same time.

      Personally, I absolutely love the idea of it, especially from just the production and professionalism standpoint and not having to watch the high school A-V room produced shows on FSC.

    • sucka99

      September 27, 2010 at 7:46 am

      The only problem with this is that ESPN has no bandwidth now for games after noon on Saturdays as they’re overloaded with college football. And the way things are going for ESPN and soccer, it seems this coverage would be moved online only or on ESPN Deportes. I’d be lovely if they offered SAP coverage on Deportes, but that’s still not occurred. As far as them buying out Gol TV, it’s not their M.O. – With Setanta UK, they created a new channel and cherrypicked the TV rights from the bankrupt Setanta. Creating a new channel and buying rights in an auction is a cost that ESPN may see as too much.

      But if this broadband thing catches on and they sign agreements with more ISPs, I could see them pushing an ESPN Soccer TV broadband only channel. They’re damn near there as it is with La Liga, Bundesliga, Eredivisdie, Portugal and Euro Qualifiers/Friendlies.

  14. Alan Knut

    September 25, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Does anyone know when EPL television rights in the US go up for bidding again? I would love if ESPN were to win the rights, it would not only make the experience better for fans in the US, and probably North America, but it would also reach many more homes and put itself in a more culturally relevant setting in the US.

    • The Gaffer

      September 25, 2010 at 2:03 pm

      Alan, they just signed the agreements this year for 2010-2013, so we can expect bidding to begin in late 2012 and to be concluded by early 2013.

      The Gaffer

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