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ESPN raises bar on Euro 2016 TV coverage to a beautiful art form

espn-euro-2016-roundtable-set

Now that the Group Stage of the 2016 European Championship has concluded, it’s time to take a look at the job that ESPN has been doing since the opening weekend of the tournament.

Overall, despite several major obstacles, ESPN has raised the bar on its coverage of a major international soccer tournament. So much so, that it’s taken the art of broadcasting a major event like this to a new level. It hasn’t been perfect by any means but the visual appeal combined with the thought-provoking analysis and attention to detail puts it light years ahead of FOX Sports’ coverage of Copa America Centenario.

Let’s take a closer look at the highs and lows of ESPN’s Euro 2016 coverage thus far:

Highs

1. Quality of American talent

It says a lot about the rise in quality of soccer on US television that many of the stars of ESPN’s coverage have been from the American talent. Taylor Twellman is able to stand his ground and offer fascinating points of analysis alongside Michael Ballack and Roberto Martinez. Kasey Keller has impressed me immeasurably, while Julie Foudy has raised several excellent points in the roundtable discussions they’ve had on set.

2. Riveting coverage

Certainly in the first week of Euro 2016 coverage, it was difficult to turn away from ESPN. The coverage was so addictive and riveting, you never knew what was going to happen next. First, there were the developing stories about hooliganism across the country, which made you tune in to see what was going to happen next. Second, there were the labor protests in Paris next to ESPN’s set, which resulted in the entire set being shut down. Third, of course, there was the football. Seeing the success of minnows such as Iceland, Wales and Northern Ireland was a sight to see.

While the soccer on the pitch was a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly, the common thread throughout this tournament is that you had ESPN on site in a studio in the middle of Paris, broadcasting this fascinating tournament. The powers that be at ESPN could have easily decided to broadcast from a sterile studio setting in Bristol, Connecticut, but they didn’t. And it paid off.

3. Worldly experts

The ability of ESPN to harness the expertise of its talent at any given moment is extraordinary. Take for example, the incident that happened during the Croatia-Czech Republic game when flares were thrown on to the pitch, halting the game for a few precious minutes. Just minutes later, immediately after the game ended, ESPN’s Gabriele Marcotti was on-set explaining what had happened and how it was a small faction of Croatia supporters who were trying to sabotage their national federation. Not only that, but Marcotti shared the discussion he had with UEFA representatives just minutes earlier.

ESPN’s ability to turn on a dime and offer intelligent insight into what is happening is world-class. It would have been so easy for the broadcaster to condemn the actions and to just blame it on Croatia as a whole. But Marcotti’s involvement elevated the discussion and helped turn the conversation into what UEFA should do based on the complicated situation.

I’m going to name names, so consider for a second what Marcotti brings to ESPN compared to what Grant Wahl does for FOX Sports. Both men are accomplished writers and authors who have almost identical roles for their respective broadcasters. But while Marcotti has his pulse on the game, Wahl is reduced to a cheerleader, offering lightweight feature pieces and very little to no hard-hitting analysis. He has become what Alexi Lalas has become for FOX Sports — a company man.

Euro 2016 match commentators on ESPN

4. Intelligent hosts

It’s been a joy to watch Bob Ley, Mike Tirico and Steve Bower. Each of the hosts brings his own style. Unlike other broadcasters, none of them have uttered anything this tournament that makes you roll your eyes or stop to wonder “Did he just say that?”  All three are very at ease in their roles, and they’ve helped to keep the discussions flowing in an interesting and informational way.

5. Attention to detail

In the fast paced world of soccer coverage, it’s so easy to get lost in all of the action. Just one example of ESPN paying close attention to a match was Alvaro Morata’s second goal in Spain’s 3-0 win against Turkey. Immediately after the game was over, the ESPN cameras rolled the footage from the beginning of the play that led to the goal, and showed every one of the 22 passes that resulted in the amazing goal. Only two players on Spain’s team failed to touch the ball, and that attention to detail is just one of many reasons that separates ESPN from other rivals.

6. The set

Last but not least, ESPN’s set alongside the River Seine has been a joy to watch. Even when you think ESPN has shown you all of the incredible sights around the set, they spring a surprise — whether it’s a choir singing alongside the river banks or the beautiful sunsets. I can’t stop watching the set, and it only adds to the quality coverage.

I also love the roundtable area. Even though ESPN is working within a small space, some of the roundtable discussions have been fascinating to listen to (with the added bonus of seeing boats sailing down the River Seine behind).

river-seine-from-espn-set

 

Lows

1. Homerism

This began for ESPN during the World Cup 2014 coverage, but I’m growing tired of the homerism among some of the analysts. For example, we all know that England as a national team has been in decline for years, but Steve McManaman’s over-the-top sense of belief in his country’s team can be nauseating. At the same time, it makes the England games intolerable at times when you have Ian Darke and Macca getting absorbed in the drama (McManaman’s moan of exasperation when the final whistle blew for England 0-0 Slovakia is a good example).

Personally, I would prefer to watch a game where the commentary is going to be fair and balanced. I don’t want to hear a very one-sided commentary. Darke, at times, tries to pull it in by talking favorably about the opponents, but it’s impossible for Darke and Macca to be fair when they’re commentating England.

Overall, ESPN has been too soft on England. They’ve played poorly in all three games, but the talent almost always seem to paint England in a positive light and believe that they’ll continue to advance.

The same can be said about Michael Ballack’s over-confidence in Germany and Vincent Kompany’s belief that Belgium should progress to the semi-finals or final. It’s human nature to people to favor their own country over others, but it doesn’t make for good television. I’d rather have someone such as Craig Burley, who doesn’t have a dog in the chase, to offer his uncensored analysis that will cut through the bone and call it the way he sees it.

craig-burley-steve-bower-euro2016

2. Santiago Solari loses track of the Euro schedule

ESPN pundit Santiago Solari, who has offered good opinions thus far, got confused on set this week. After the coverage of Northern Ireland/Germany and Ukraine/Poland, Solari kept on talking about how the Spain-Croatia and Czech Republic/Turkey games the next day should be more exciting and entertaining to watch. Except the problem was that the games were about to kick off within the hour on the same ESPN channel. He made the mistake twice on air, which made me go back to my TV schedule to make sure I wasn’t confused. Surprisingly, the host didn’t try to immediately correct Solari. The mistakes slipped by, but they must have been confusing to many other viewers too.

3. Close-up replays not seen on TV

Last but not least, during the Italy versus Sweden game, ESPN showed a replay where they zoomed in to show that Giorgio Chiellini’s throw-in that led to the goal was a foul throw. Unfortunately, because the zoomed-in shot was at the bottom of the screen, ESPN’s ticker covered the incident so we were unable to see whether Chiellini had his leg raised or not. Hopefully ESPN caught the mistake and will keep that in consideration for similar zoomed-in action in the future.

 

ESPN’s coverage of Euro 2016 resumes on Saturday, June 25.

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13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Taimur

    June 30, 2016 at 3:46 am

    I am not the only one who notices a dip in quality from Ian Darke. But he’s still far better than any other commentator that ESPN have, barring John Champion or Derek Rae.

  2. Jack

    June 29, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    Fox Copa America coverage was a joke. ESPN coverage is outstanding!!!

  3. rjaver

    June 26, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    I agree the coverage on ESPN has been great, Fox is what is has always been and maybe even getting worse, some people seem to be into that nonsense though, there is an article from the Guardian today that says Fox is the great and ESPN has issues, so some people must like that crap.

  4. Alan

    June 25, 2016 at 1:15 am

    I have no complaints about ESPN coverage,, they have gotten better all around, and even though the apprentices aren’t great at least they work the lesser games, and are miles ahead of the Fox teams. Here’s to hoping that ESPN’s success with the Euros will spur them to really go after the next round of Champions League rights.
    Who knows, the Fox execs could be thinking” maybe we should sub-license some of the World Cup rights” since we can’t get our act together!!!

  5. Ivan

    June 24, 2016 at 8:45 pm

    Macca ‘ s high pitch complaining towards the end of the Slovenia was both annoying and super funny, sounded like a 14 girl at a Bieber concert. I got text messages from 3 separate people making fun of him. Get over yourswlf, Macca, England are not good, they never were either. Where does the false sense of entitlement come from, zero basis in reality for that!
    Somebody, please tell ‘Doctor Joe’ to shut up on Fox. Truly the biggest waste if space ever. This mumbling misunderstanding belongs to a Pee Wee Herman children tv show, not to ‘help interpret the referees decisons’…awful, absolutely awful!!!
    Generally agree with the article, ESPN coverage is light years ahead of the amateurs at Fox. This has been the case for as long as can remember, though…

  6. Luigi

    June 24, 2016 at 7:40 pm

    Derek Rae should be in France and he should be getting more marquee matchups. He is on par, if not better, than Darke and Champion. Darke hasn’t impressed me this tournament, but he is still an excellent commentator. Max Bretos, where do I start? Hes been absolutly woeful. Healey has been mediocre. Same with Donaldson.

  7. Zack

    June 24, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    Simply put, spectacular. Take notes FOX. But it appears you haven’t.

  8. TheTruth

    June 24, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    Damn. You know your coverage is good when an issue with zooming on one particular moment is considered worthy of a “low.”

    In my opinion, something way more worthy of a low is how so many of the games have been commentated from Bristol. I believe Darke and Champion are the only play by play commentators in France (but I could be wrong). It seems that at least so far at least 50% of the games have been commentated offsite (although this percent will certainly go down as the tournament progresses). I am not really sure why after putting so much money into the broadcast they couldn’t find a way to at least get one more play by play commentator in France. Sometimes having the commentators at the game can be a big difference.

    For example, during the England vs Russia game the Russian fans lit a flare that caused a loud explosion before shooting across the stadium. The noise of the explosion was easily heard on TV and sounded very similar to the incident during the France game (the one during the Paris terror attacks) where the two suicide bombers could be heard on TV. Had Darke not been in the stadium he would not have been able to quickly inform the viewers that the explosion was nothing major. If he had been in Bristol he would have been wondering the same thing that the viewers were, as the flare was never seen on TV.

  9. Curly Puffs

    June 24, 2016 at 1:47 pm

    Twellman, Keller, and Foudy have all stepped it up over the last few years, they’ve been impressive. Kompany and Ballack are very good as well. Burley’s forthrightedness is the standout for me. Hosts have been solid too. The fundamental difference between these guys and the Fox clowns is that they put time and effort into their preparation, so they are ready to talk about anything. It shows.

    The positives most certainly outweigh the negatives, but still can’t ignore the weaknesses. Markgraf is too inexperienced at this level and is poor. It’s also very clear when the commentators are off-site; perhaps ESPN could have sent more of them to France to enhance the coverage.

    PS sorry gaffer but no way have England been “poor” this tournament. They haven’t been great but it’s still been a massive improvement on their play at tournaments in last few decades. Just need a finishing touch.

    • Lawrence Dockery

      June 24, 2016 at 1:58 pm

      Agree about Markgraf. Everything she says sounds like it’s coming straight off of a piece of paper. And it’s only evident that they are off site with a few of the commentary teams. Not sure why, but when Derek Rae is working it sounds much better than Healey or Bretos. Maybe they put the extra effort in because he’s better. I don’t know.

  10. Lawrence Dockery

    June 24, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    Ian Darke, Jon Champion and Derek Rae have all been excellent. Max Bretos, Adrian Healey and Mark Donaldson however……..

    • TheTruth

      June 24, 2016 at 4:25 pm

      Why the Derek Rae was left in Bristol I will never know. If I were him I would have ripped my contract in pieces and ran out the door. He deserves more of the top calibre games, as well as a top calibre co-commentator. Can’t believe ESPN is treating someone so talented like that.

    • TheTruth

      June 24, 2016 at 4:28 pm

      Oh and hi I am Max Bretos. YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE-essssssSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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