As the self-proclaimed ‘worldwide leader in sports,’ ESPN has a multitude of programs that cover the various aspects of sports around the world. Their best studio show though was relegated to ESPN+ last year.
ESPN FC debuted in August of 2013 to coincide with NBC winning the rights to show Premier League matches on their networks. The show originally came on Monday-Friday on ESPN2 at 5:30 p.m. ET. On Sundays, an hour-long version of the show was aired at midnight ET also on ESPN2 to recap the matches that were played around the world. Less than a year after it started, the show was moved to ESPNEWS and had a new time slot of 6 p.m. ET. ESPN FC remained on the network until last year when their parent company announced their extensive soccer coverage plans on ESPN+ and stated that the show would exclusively be viewed on the OTT (over-the-top) streaming service.
The treatment of ESPN FC is more about the American audience’s lack of love towards the beautiful game and less about the actual quality of the show. Only TNT’s nine-time Emmy award winning show Inside the NBA provides more entertaining content and analysis on a weekly basis. The main cast of ESPN FC has been the same since its inception and it makes sense because the crew has great chemistry with one another. Overall, the program has a diverse stable of contributors but host Dan Thomas along with analysts Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop, Alejandro Moreno and Steve Nicol are the core of the show.
Thomas plays the role of the snooty host that knows how to get under the skin of the analysts with his questions and occasionally even his outfit selection. The Southampton native has been in the broadcasting industry since he was 15 working for BBC Radio, and last worked for Real Madrid TV before he joined ESPN in 2010. Burley is the biggest character on the show similar to Charles Barkley on Inside the NBA. The former Chelsea midfielder is a surly analyst that hates the Ballon d’Or, Messi-Ronaldo debates and has no respect for the UEFA Nations League which ESPN has the rights to broadcast. The former Scottish international is a brash individual that can be humorous in his analysis.
Hislop is the free spirit of the program. The former West Ham goalkeeper always has a smile on his face, laughs uncontrollably during the many hysterical moments of the show and is responsible for the weekly power rankings where the former Trinidad and Tobago international lists his top teams around the world. The segment is very entertaining especially when his co-hosts are criticizing his thought process as he’s putting together the list. Moreno brings the energy to the show with his catch-phrases, charisma and wit. The former Venezuela international also does a weekly segment on MLS, which he knows very well because he played in the league for 10 years.
Nicol is the most accomplished former footballer on the show. The legendary Liverpool left-back won four league titles, three FA Cups, the European Cup, now known as the Champions League, and the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year in 1989 with the Reds. He’s also been a successful manager that led the New England Revolution to four MLS Cup finals. Unfortunately they lost all of them. The former Scottish international doesn’t hide his love for Liverpool or his disdain for England and Sergio Ramos’ defending ability, and remains objective about everything else.
To provide more detail on topics the show also has respectable journalists such as Rafa Honigstein, Julien Laurens, Sid Lowe and Gabriele Marcotti who make appearances and even stick around after the show to participate in the YouTube segment #FCExtraTime. This section is for viewers of the show to submit questions to the analysts via Twitter and it’s when the personality of the show truly comes to life. The analysts tell great stories of their times as footballers, we learn about their favorite dishes such as Nicol’s obsession with shepherd’s pie, diets they may be in because their wife forced them to participate, and their times playing golf together.
As ESPN continues to acquire the rights of soccer leagues around the world, it would make sense for them to use ESPN+ to promote the leagues they have at their disposal. Given how good the show is, maybe ESPN+ FC deserves another shot at terrestrial television.
Editor’s note: ESPN FC is available every weeknight on ESPN+