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Highs and Lows of ESPN’s World Cup 2014 Coverage

In 2005, ABC/ESPN paid just $100 million for the English-language rights to the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups (as well as 2007 and 2011 Women’s World Cups). That fee was dwarfed in 2011 when FOX paid $425 million to win the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments.

Based on what ABC/ESPN got out of the last two World Cups, I would say it’s money well spent.

While ESPN says goodbye to its last World Cup for a minimum of 12 years, they have to be congratulated for the hard work and benchmarks they’ve achieved.

Here are some of our highs and lows of ESPN’s World Cup 2014 broadcast:


1. Last Call

ESPN’s groundbreaking Last Call was a breath of fresh air. The nightly show was a relaxing and informative discussion show that often featured plenty of friendly and interesting debates with the pundits gathered around the table.

The relaxed manner of the show was jovial at times, and broke away from the typical stuffy studio shows that we expect to see on television.

2. Roberto Martinez

The fact that ESPN continues to be able to secure the talent of Roberto Martinez with each major tournament is a huge coup for the American broadcaster.

Martinez is a perfectionist in everything he does. He’s an excellent communicator. He almost always adds observations and pieces of wisdom that are enlightening. And his calmness and effervescent personality in front of the TV camera is a joy to watch.

3. Tactics board

Instead of the jumbo-sized board that FOX Sports uses for its Champions League coverage, ESPN’s flat-screen tactics board was used when needed and was often a high point of the analysis that the ESPN talent provided.

Taylor Twellman, Alexi Lalas and Roberto Martinez, in particular, were highlights.

4. The partnership of Jon Champion and Stewart Robson

Before this World Cup, we surprisingly didn’t have the opportunity to listen to Jon Champion and Stewart Robson in the same commentary booth that often for Premier League matches. However, the partnership of Champion and Robson at the FIFA World Cup was one of the high points.

Although a little too scripted at times, Jon Champion was superb overall. His ability to “call it as he sees it” combined with Robson’s forthrightness was refreshing to hear. There was no pussyfooting in their commentaries. It was straight to the point, time after time again.

Derek Rae and Daniel Mann were two other commentary highlights. Both were model professionals.

5. Ruud Van Nistelrooy

It was so refreshing to listen to an intelligent and well-spoken former footballer who seemed to be such a natural in front of the TV camera.

While the “we” in his Dutch analysis was grating at times, he was always informative to listen to, and did a stellar job at fusing his insights as a former professional footballer into words that were enlightening for viewers to hear.

6. Traumatic brain injuries

ESPN soccer analyst Taylor Twellman has been a vocal critic of FIFA’s ignorance regarding the issue of traumatic brain injuries in soccer caused by concussions and repeated hits to the head.

While this World Cup has provided several unfortunate examples of footballers continuing to play during games only minutes after being concussed, Twellman has continued to bring to light how backwards FIFA’s policies are.

Notably, the foreign press continue to ignore the matter, but ESPN and Twellman should be congratulated for continuing to beat the drum. The issue has to be resolved soon before someone gets seriously injured.



1. Steve McManaman

After 45 minutes of one of the most stunning World Cup games in the history of the competition, the TV cameras zoomed in on Ian Darke and Steve McManaman. Germany had absolutely decimated Brazil 5-0 in the first half. Darke then asked his colleague a perfectly normal and valid question, “How would you explain what happened to Brazil in the first 45 minutes?”

McManaman’s answer was stunning. Stunningly poor.

As a co-commentator, Macca’s job is to be an expert, and to add analysis and insight that informs the TV viewer.

McManaman’s response was straight out of the Warren Barton bag of cliches.

The former Real Madrid and Liverpool player uttered a number of vagaries, talking about how the defense had lost its shape, etcetera. But there was no decisive analysis by McManaman. There was no blaming individual players or specific tactics. There was no insight.

Whether that was due to incompetence or a former footballer being unwilling to criticize fellow professionals, we don’t know. But I couldn’t believe how weak his response was.

This isn’t the first time that McManaman has failed to deliver. In fact, the novelty factor of being chummy with Ian Darke has worn off. He’s an excellent conversationalist, and wears his heart on his sleeve, but if you actually listen to what he offers, it’s nothing of real value.

I respect him as an accomplished footballer, and an all-around nice person. But having McManaman as a co-commentator was certainly a weakness for ESPN. While Taylor Twellman certainly has his critics, a combination of Darke and Twellman in the final would have been better.

2. Gilberto Silva

While there’s no doubt that Gilberto was a brilliant midfielder for Brazil and Arsenal, he was completely out of his depth as a pundit.

Silva’s English was so poor that it made him difficult to understand at times. But even when you were able to understand his broken English, what he said was incredibly basic. His English vocabulary didn’t allow him to be able to explain himself in the language that was required to describe the collapse of Brazil. Instead, what you heard were answers along the lines of “Brazil was not so good” and “We have to try harder.”

Silva didn’t look comfortable on the set either, which may have been a result of the language barrier being a difficult hurdle to overcome.

His colleague, Brazilian reporter Rubens Pozzi, meanwhile was far more insightful, had a better on-screen presence and showed that he could be quite animated or composed given the topic, as opposed to the static Gilberto.

3. Virtual Presenter technology

ESPN didn’t use the technology until the latter rounds of the tournament, and possibly for good reason. ESPN’s Virtual Presenter technology virtually placed ESPN soccer pundits on to the field so they could “stand” next to players on the pitch, to give a different perspective on the analysis, and to share their wisdom. However, the execution of the technology just didn’t add anything. Instead, it looked more like a scene from the movie Honey, I Shrunk the Kids with the pundits shrunken in size.

4. Soccer Gods

ESPN’s coverage has been stellar in so many ways, but the usage by some of its presenters and analysts of the term “soccer gods” is lazy. There are no soccer gods. There never has been and there never will be. Things happen, but it has nothing to do with a “soccer god.” The usage of the term is becoming a cliche, something which ESPN normally tries to avoid.


Overall, congratulations once again to ESPN for another wonderful World Cup broadcast. FOX will now be the rights holder in the United States for the Women’s World Cup in 2015 and 2019, as well as the FIFA World Cup in 2018 and 2022. ESPN has set the bar extremely high. Let’s hope that FOX pays attention and takes inspiration from all of the things that ESPN has done so well.

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    July 15, 2014 at 7:42 am


    Really on target here. The highs here so high that the lows can be easily over looked. Martinez especially continues to amaze the and hold the viewers attention as he did in 2010. Last Call may be a game changer in US television sports.

    Another case of I’m old enough to remember when there was no ESPN and am officially part of its history for being in the arena for its every NCAA basketball telecast here but this WC has to be its finest effort. Fresh every night, great insight, brilliant selection of announcers, increible in studio hosts and former players. Fox can not be better it should pay homage and copy outright what was done. Russia in 2018 can not outdo Brazil.Lets face it the matches themselves can not get any better. The time difference will be tough for the US audience. With the prospect of the 2022 event being held in the US Fox should try to learn from Russia in 2018 and be ready to bring us the 2022 event in a way never seen before.

  2. Casey G

    July 15, 2014 at 12:27 am

    Being too Critical of Macca and his analysis, while every night Alexi Lalas is yapping on about the same line with “Messi will never be Maradona ‘the character'” and “I want that national anthem to mean something to those players american players”


  3. KapUSMC

    July 14, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    Its a rare occasion… But I agree with everything Chris said. The only change I would make, is number 1 on the highs.. WATCH ESPN! Being able to have all the games (esp with so many during work hours) available was amazing. Being able to watch a replay of any match was amazing. The tactical cam (being able to see the offside flag DID NOT come up on the Wondo shot against Belgium).. You guessed it, amazing. They way ESPN improved their coverage each world cup during their run was impressive. Well done ESPN.

  4. Justin

    July 14, 2014 at 7:36 am

    I can just imagine Fox’s NFL jingle opening up with World Cup – smashing robots together and fading away to Warren Barton and his terrible suits.

  5. rkujay

    July 14, 2014 at 7:23 am

    I think ESPN did a fine job. The dismal impending doom that is gus brings no joy. When I think of what I did not have to be subjected to, I only give the highest marks.
    OH WAY AH!!!!!!!!!

  6. B

    July 14, 2014 at 7:05 am

    The criticism of Steve McManaman is a bit misguided. The example provided in the article was his lack of in depth analysis during the semi-final Germany vs Brazil match. I honestly think that he was completely struck by how terrible Brazil was playing. Literally, where should he have started. And he was overtly critical of individual players throughout the game. Similarly, Gilberto Silva (while his English was limited) wouldn’t have been able to provide much insight in Portugese either in the studio after that game. It was a shock to me as well. It took me the night to group my thoughts before I could discuss it in-depth with friends.

  7. Brad

    July 14, 2014 at 6:46 am

    I give Lynsey Hipgrave a thumbs up.

  8. Harry Nibbler

    July 14, 2014 at 2:56 am

    Twellenhamz and Lalas are complete jokes and have no business on tv. Neither one of them are fit to ties the boots of former players like Gilberto or Ballack. Watching these guys try to add “insight” was painful.

    FOX is broadcasting this in 2018? LOL.
    USA USA USA, bro!

  9. ed

    July 13, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    Did ESPN make a final compilation like they usually do because I missed it and I was wondering if anybody recorded it?

  10. Emmett

    July 13, 2014 at 11:52 pm

    I agree Macca was weak. I think Darke was too. Too much complaining about calls and what should or shouldn’t have been cards. And Darke kept saying how there was no cynicism during the World Cup. I’m not sure he was watching the games then because every game had a dozen flops or guys writhing in pain only to be making a full field sprint the next minute. The “gamesmanship” has to stop. All it really is is unsportsmanlike behavior. I agree that Champion/Robson was the best team.

  11. Tayo

    July 13, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    Santiago Solari? He also had the same problems Gilberto Silva had….

  12. goatslookshifty

    July 13, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    ESPNFC made me laugh each night with Burley, Hislop, Nichol etc. Lalas and Ballack actually make a good pair,they’re making adverts together. The bouncing between channels became a bit annoying. They should have dedicated ESPN News just for the World Cup. A lot can happen in four years. Gus might discover he’s a damn good horse racing commentator and quit football.

  13. Alex Riley

    July 13, 2014 at 10:56 pm

    I also agree that the criticism of Macca is harsh. He still makes a lot of good points during the broadcast, despite being a bit goofy sometimes. His partnership with Darke is top notch and I’m glad they got to do the final together. Other than that, I don’t know why you didn’t mention Lalas in the “soccer gods” part. This phrase is his most annoying trademark cliche. His analysis, apart from being condescending, generally involves saying something like “Messi…he’s gotta produce on the big stage. He’ll be looking for some moments and if the soccer gods are in his favor then he will be key.” Great insight Alexi

  14. Flyvanescence

    July 13, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    How the bloody heck wasnt Alexi Lalas on the lows list? He was awful.

    I enjoyed Ballack and Martinez particularly.

    And im sorry but while i understand your criticism of Ian and Macca, hearing them in the booth together makes me happy. Like the guy a couple comments above me said, i wouldnt want it any other way (except maybe Tyler and Neville but Neville wasnt available anyway). Its like when somebody criticises your favourite band and you know the band well enough to understand the criticism but you dont want to hear it–they are still your favourite band.
    Ill miss Ian and Macca til Euro 2016.

  15. double-dog

    July 13, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    frankly I found all of the in-game coverage to be very good. But the pre- and post-game shows were quite lame. Lots of awkward moments… quite weak. Lalas (sorry) was especially painful to watch and listen to.

  16. Eric Thornley

    July 13, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    Can someone explain to me how ESPN lost the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup? Did they just underestimate how much Fox would bid? I have a bad feeling about how Fox will handle it, might send us back to the 2006 dark ages…and even further than that. Ouch.

      • Eric T

        July 14, 2014 at 12:36 am

        Hopefully ESPN takes it more seriously next time…like they do for most other major sports.

        • Eric Thornley

          July 14, 2014 at 11:45 am

          Four thumbs down? I guess people want FOX to hold the World Cup rights for the next three decades.

        • Jeff

          July 14, 2014 at 8:51 pm

          The thumbs down in my opinion is because your argument is flawed. It wasn’t that ESPN didn’t want to maintain the World Cup, their president is a known football fan. ESPN were simply outbided by FOX for the rights.

          FOX paid 3x what ESPN did for the 2010/2014 World Cups. Yes, it was reasonable to expect that there would have been some increase in how much the next WC package would sell for due to a number of factors (eg; growing US interest in football, emergence of FS1/NBCSN). Although you could argue that FOX (& ESPN for that matter if they did renew the rights) overbidded heavily for the rights, considering NBC only paid 2x what the previous EPL package cost FOX/ESPN for far more games.

          • Christopher Harris

            July 14, 2014 at 9:15 pm

            Plus FOX overbid by $100 million to win the World Cup rights. They could have won the bid with a $400 million offer, but because the bidding process was a blind bid, they had no way of knowing what the other broadcasters were bidding.

  17. tjgaff

    July 13, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    I can see why you would find McManaman’s commentary lacking as your acumen and experience demands more; perhaps we neophytes will get there, too.

    On the other hand, as one who has come to know soccer recently and mostly via Ian Darke and Macca on ESPN before NBC bought the rights, I have to say that I would have wanted no other commentators for this game. When those two do a game, it’s like going home. Also, they left me without any doubt as to the historical ineptitude of Brazil’s defending against the offensive prowess of Germany. McManaman also had pointed words for the kind of diving/acting that Americans loathe. As a newcomer to serious soccer viewing, I do find what he has to say to be of value.

    Gilberto Silva become more coherent and down right eloquent only after the debacle against Germany. He searched for and found many of the right words that day, but he often added little.

    I’m also came to love the eloquence of John Champion and the clipped seriousness of Robson. He might consider giving Ozil a break as he takes shots at such an elegant and aesthetically pleasing player every chance he got. I wonder what he would have said about Ozil in the final.

    As a lifelong hoop fan, I’m familiar with Gus Johnson’s brand of exuberant basketball play-by-play work; perhaps Fox can get a reserved, experienced partner to reel him in a bit by the time the World Cup rolls around. Gus is a pro; I’m sure he was watching and I hope he realizes what works now for soccer.

    It’s all a matter of taste and we all know that there is no accounting for taste!

    Thanks for this site, Mr. Harris!

  18. Mark Williamson

    July 13, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Sorry don’t agree with Ian and Macca criticism. They were both fantastic, as usual. With my group of friends, we were all in agreement on the commentating.

  19. R.O

    July 13, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    I feel that Efan Ekoku should have been added to highs. His working together with D.R was very good and the 3 times E.E was on “Last Call” was also good.

    I feel the criticism on Gilberto Silva was a bit harsh IMO. Yes his English wasn’t that good but I feel for a panel he was good to have their from a Brazilian point.

    If Macca was given a low, then I feel I.D might have been included in that as his performance in this WC wasn’t at the same level as in 2010, especially for the USA games.

    • CH

      July 13, 2014 at 9:47 pm

      Agree 100% with everything.

  20. Steve A.

    July 13, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    Macca caused me to watch the game on CBC. Peter Drury by himself was much better on my ears.

  21. Mo

    July 13, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    The low number 2 should be a combination of Gilberto Silva/Michael Ballack. Ballack was just as poor of an analyst as Silva. His go to answer when asked to give a prediction or provide analysis would always start with “Well it’s difficult to say” or “I think they have a difficult job ahead of them”. Alexi Lalas is a bit of blowhard but at least when he’s asked a simple question he will give a straight answer even if it does come off as arrogant.

  22. Smokey Bacon

    July 13, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    A terrific job by everyone at ESPN. They came a long way from the debacle of 2006, a place which Fox seems to think we want to return. It was nice to see ESPN gets another go with the Euros. Fox will not learn anything from ESPN’s master class in how to broadcast the World Cup. I can guarantee that somewhere in LA today, probably in a basement, Gus Johnson was screaming ” MARIO GOATZA…………..110TH MINUTE………….1-0 GERMANY”. That, my friends is what we have to look forward to now.

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      July 13, 2014 at 8:42 pm

      Well said Smokey! I agree totally on your points. Let’s hope FOX got the message but my guess is they will be challenged to say the least.

    • KTA

      July 13, 2014 at 9:09 pm


    • Remy

      July 13, 2014 at 9:31 pm

      I don’t know what Fox will do but I am predicting some NFL-like coverage with a stupid robot smashing stuff and they will explain Soccer in NFL terms so that the “ignorant” viewers can understand the game. And, of course, they will have Gus Johnson.

      • Eric Thornley

        July 13, 2014 at 9:41 pm

        Yep…I am very fearful of how much Fox will set us back. Migh make 1994 World Cup coverage look like a masterclass!

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