Even though they are eventually losing the live rights to the majority of their soccer coverage, ESPN is creating a new daily studio show focused on soccer: ESPNFC on TV. There has been ESPNFC Press Pass, which was a Monday through Friday show that aired anywhere from 12:30 to 1:30 a.m. on ESPN News, and was highly unwatched. Most people probably didn’t know it existed.
ESPNFC on TV will be a new daily show, starting on Sunday, Aug. 11 at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN2, which is a special air-time. On Aug. 12, it will assume its normal schedule of Monday through Friday at 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2, with a special, hourlong, weekly wrap-up show on Sundays at midnight ET on ESPN2. ESPN announced this show on May 11 but finally released the names of their anchors and analysts Aug. 1; 10 days before the show goes to air.
SportsCenter anchor and former Fox Soccer Channel host Max Bretos and current ESPNFC Press Pass host Dan Thomas will anchor the show, splitting shows between the two of them. While ESPN is losing the English Premier League this season to NBC and the World Cup eventually to Fox, the Worldwide Leader has assembled a great lineup of soccer analysts and are trying to provide soccer coverage that the fans want.
There are too many analysts and former players who will contribute to name, but among the analyst highlights are Grantland’s Rog Bennett, play-by-play men Ian Darke and Adrian Healey, former U.S. Men’s National Team players and ESPN analysts Alexi Lalas, Kasey Keller and Taylor Twellman, along with international soccer journalists like Gabriele Marcotti and Sid Lowe, and ESPN’s resident soccer shouter Tommy Smyth. ESPNFC on TV will also employ Peter Walton, a former referee in the English leagues, who will analyze the refereeing decisions of the week, and break down the errors caused by human error.
This new dedication to soccer programming parallels the efforts made by ESPN’s new national cable sports competitor, Fox Sports 1. When FS1 launches on Aug. 17, it will assume the channel previously held by Fox Soccer Channel, basically dumping most of FSC’s content. The one soccer-centric program that will be added to FS1′s schedule is Fox Soccer Daily. Launching on Aug. 19, it won’t directly compete with ESPN’s show – airing at 4 to 4:30 p.m. ET instead of 5:30 – and will not have coverage on weekends. The talent for that show hasn't been announced yet but you'd expect to see many Fox Soccer Channel personnel transform the show from a weekly Premier League pregame to a daily highlights, interviews and analysis show like ESPN’s.
Whichever show you prefer, it has never been a better time to be a soccer fan in America.
Apart from Lalas and Smyth, this actually seems to be a pretty solid lineup. Bennett and Sid Lowe are particularly good journalists - Lowe's articles about Spanish football are always original and insightful, and Bennett's knowledge of the English game is excellent. The Men In Blazers podcast he runs with Michael Davies is always entertaining as well.
I'm really hoping that they don't try to hold viewers' hands as much as Fox Soccer typically does.