ESPN’s broadcast of Euro 2008 was the best production ever of a soccer tournament for TV viewers in the United States. While it wasn’t perfect, it was clearly evident that ESPN had listened to the past criticism and corrected the annoying habits that had previously distanced diehard soccer fans from its network.

After ESPN vastly improved my impression of them this summer, I was then dismayed to discover that ESPN’s dirty habits had returned during the West Ham United against MLS All-Star Team game on Thursday night.

The four most annoying rules that were broken last night were:

  1. On two separate occasions, while the match was still being played and the ball was on the pitch, ESPN broke away to “SportsCenter Right Now,” a brief news update on the day’s top baseball stories. Imagine how baseball fans would feel if the same thing happened to them during the middle of an inning and ESPN broke away to soccer news.
  2. A few minutes before half-time, with the match still ongoing, ESPN cut away to presenter Rob Stone who discussed what food was available for sale at the concession stands. This completely distracted commentators JP Dellacamera and John Harkes so that they too ended up talking about the food and how they were hungry. Harkes mentioned he wanted to see Stone gobble the food. ESPN then cut away again a minute later to show Stone eating corn on the cob and a burger.
  3. In the second half, we were “treated” to Rob Stone standing on top of the stadium roof introducing us to the bird, yes bird, who keeps the gulls from infesting the ground.
  4. ESPN sideline reporter Allen Hopkins interviewed NBA player Steve Nash and striker Kenny Cooper at pitchside. Why not conduct these interviews before or after the match instead of wasting our time during the game?

By breaking away from the game, ESPN continues to commit the cardinal sin of soccer TV coverage. The message it communicates to the viewer is that the game isn’t exciting. I realize what ESPN is trying to do by putting their own spin on live coverage, but all four of the above rules broken didn’t add anything to the broadcast other than infuriating the viewer.

Yes, ESPN should be commended for providing HD coverage as well as great broadcasting of the game itself, but the network looks amateurish and hokey when it tries to liven up the broadcast with these idiotic cutaways.

It’s time for ESPN to treat its soccer coverage seriously rather than making it into a joke.

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