Euro 2008 is finally here after the standard mega sports event buildup.  And for ESPN, today is the beginning of their broadcast of the entire tournmanet for the first time.  The network has been rolling the ads for weeks and made a big addition to its on-air talent with Andy Gray.  Now, at last, the coverage itself is the focus.  So how did the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports do?

Overall, it seemed to go fairly well.  Derek Rae and Tommy Smyth was pretty much their standard selves on the first game, which means you already love them or hate them based on their past broadcasts.  Personally, I’m a fan of Rae, and thought he was great.  I was worried about how Adrian Healey and Andy Gray would come together, but it ended up just fine, with Gray’s class shining but not overpowering Healey, who was able to work well with him.  Part of me, however, wishes for a Derek Rae/Andy Gray booth at some point.  Maybe for the final.  As for the on-screen look, I’m glad to see ESPN’s graphics was in line with UEFA’s own TV feed, right down to the scorebox in the top right.  There were no unnecessary large boxes with mismatched color, and nothing that popped on-screen interfered with the match itself.

The studio show, however, left something to be desired.  First off, Steve Bunin seemed to be having a hard time keeping the show moving.  I’ve seen Bunin before on MLS broadcasts, and he’s always seemed uncomfortable with soccer.  But given Bunin was not on the network’s original slate of hosts, maybe this ends up being just a last minute call-in.  Then there is Julie Foudy.  Foudy is ok as an analyst, but when she was alongside Andy Gray, she seemed superfluous.  Gray just knows everything to talk about and how to say it, and so Foudy seemed unsure what to do.  Foudy with Smyth was better, but seemed disjointed compared to Gray’s own efforts.  Hopefully this gets ironed out as the days go on.

Some other random thoughts:
*Loved that ESPN showed the national anthems before the game.  It’s a nice small touch.
*I understand the event is on a related network, but the Belmont Stakes segment between matches was unnecessary, and reminds me why I get fustrated with ESPN’s promotion at times.
*ESPN Axis is a great addition to the studio show analysis, and I hope it makes its way to the network’s MLS and Champions League broadcasts as well.

My final verdict is that this was a good first day of broadcast.  I would like to see the studio show get straightened out a little, but overall it was a job well done, and showed that ESPN is serious about this tournament.  Hopefully the network will be able to keep it up over the next three plus weeks.