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.