ESPN’s surprise announcement this week that Jon Champion has decided to relocate to the United States and become ESPN’s lead commentator for MLS is going to leave a gaping hole in the commentaries of Premier League games.
Out of all of the Premier League commentators calling games around the world, Champion is the number one in his field. Displaying a very English commentary style with an equal balance of witty remarks and not talking too much during games, Champion is the best in the business. So much so that his commentary style coupled with his knack of saying the right thing at the right time has made him a household name to viewers worldwide that tune into English football.
He will stay on commentate his final Premier League match on the world feed on January 29 between Newcastle United and Manchester City. After that, he’ll be flying to the United States to get ready for the 2019 MLS season where he’ll team up with Taylor Twellman to call games from the domestic top-flight league.
ESPN producer Amy Rosenfeld has said it will be determined on a case-by-case basis whether Champion can call Premier League games and tournaments if it doesn’t interfere with his ESPN work. However, given MLS’ long season from March until December as well as the world feed’s preference to have their commentators call Premier League games from the stadiums in England, it’s doubtful that Champion will be a regular in the Premier League given his schedule and new residence in the United States.
No offense to Arlo White, but Jon Champion is the voice of the Premier League. While Martin Tyler is the quintessential English commentator, we only get to hear Tyler’s commentaries on Monday night Premier League matches as well as the occasional England national team game or European cup final.
Eloquent and exceedingly listenable, Champion has been one of the hardest working English football commentators in the United Kingdom for the last decade. He will be deeply missed on Premier League broadcasts.
Who can fill his shoes in England is a big question. Much like Champion, Peter Drury is one who has had a long career in England. But while Drury has a memorable voice and delivery style, he hasn’t won over as many fans of his commentary as much as Champion has, as regular readers to this blog can attest.
So if Drury isn’t the rightful successor to get most of the limelight commentating games from England, which UK-based commentator is? Ian Darke doesn’t get to call as many Premier League games as viewers in the United States would like (he’s arguably bigger in America than he is in England). Derek Rae would be an ideal acquisition for the Premier League world-feed commentaries, but the timing may be poor given that he recently moved back to the States. Meanwhile, the remainder of the other English football commentators all fall into the same pack — well-skilled in their craft but not in the category of world-class commentators.
In some ways, the trio of Drury, Champion and Tyler have been such a reliable and consistent mainstay in the last three decades of English football commentary that it has left a gap behind the next wave of announcers. Also, outside of the Premier League seasons, the trio have been able to pick up many of the top slots for commentators globally whether it’s for the World Cup, European Championship or International Champions Cup.
Champion’s exit from the Premier League will give more opportunities to younger commentators to break into the field. But at the same time, it might mean that what we’re left with is a group of 15-20 quality commentators (including the more experienced Drury and Tyler). Where we may see the new, rising stars will be in the role of co-commentator instead of a lead announcer. Leon Osman is a good example of that as someone who has hit the ground running in a very short space of time.
The Premier League’s loss is MLS’ gain. Lending his voice to the league will give ESPN’s broadcasts more of a familiar voice and will make the MLS games more listenable and engaging. That having be said, I will sincerely miss Jon Champion calling so many memorable Premier League and Championship games.