The mysterious entry of Al Jazeera into the American sports television market, specifically targeting international soccer rights, is a story that we'll continue to monitor throughout the summer. However, there is a major on-field tournament coming up this summer with the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine. The Euros are often thought of as the second biggest international tournament behind the World Cup and features some of the best teams and players in the world.
The event will also mark the second time ESPN has devoted massive resources to televising every match of the competition. Although the 2010 World Cup is often cited as the turning point of soccer coverage being taken seriously on American television, it was actually the Euro 2008 tournament where ESPN really changed the attitude towards the presentation of soccer. Thus, it's come as no surprise that ESPN has assigned top-level talent once again to announce the games this summer. The announcer pairings are as follows:
-The lead duo comes as no surprise as the sublime Ian Darke will be joined by his trusty partner, former England international Steve McManaman. Darke has developed into a fan favorite for the simple reason that he's one of the best announcers in the world who can provide the excitement that connects with American fans. His partner McManaman isn't as spectacular, but can provide insightful analysis around the usual cliches and is pretty good. Together, they make up one of the most solid broadcast duos regardless of sport. In Euro 2012, Darke and McManaman will be on site in Poland/Ukriane for the entire tournament. Look for this duo to cover the glamour teams in the group stages (England, Spain, Germany, the Dutch) before the knockout round.
-One of the other supporting pairings features play-by-play man Adrian Healey along with former Middlesbrough man Robbie Mustoe. Healey would be another familiar voice to soccer fans as he has broadcasted MLS and U.S. Men's National Team games in addition to past World Cups and international competitions. On the other hand, Mustoe would be much less familiar to more casual soccer fans, however he is intelligent and prescient in his analysis. I've always enjoyed Mustoe's work and feel ESPN could use him more. This duo will be calling games from the Bristol Broom Closet in the group stage.
-The final pairing actually features three commentators. Veteran play-by-play man Derek Rae will be joined on a rotating basis by former MLS MVP Taylor Twellman and former U.S. goalie Kasey Keller. Rae is a pro's pro who has called numerous big matches for ESPN in the past alongside Tommy Smyth including Champions League Finals. Twellman has (thankfully) replaced John Harkes as the lead analyst for MLS and USMNT action and seems to be growing into the role quite well. Keller is a bit of a wild card, but he does have experience working in Seattle and in ESPN's studios.
All in all, a very solid ensemble effort once again from the WWL. According to EPL Talk current Wigan manager (and perhaps next Liverpool manager) Roberto Martinez, who greatly impressed at the 2010 World Cup, will return as a studio analyst. Of course we'll probably have Alexi Lalas as well, but sometimes you have to take the good with the bad.
In looking at ESPN's lineup, there is a severe lack of American voices once again in the play-by-play chair. Sure there are Twellman and Keller as analysts and you can bet Bob Ley will once again be involved in studio coverage, but there's a big difference in not having an American voice to guide viewers through the actual matches. Again though, for now it's only a minor complaint in what looks to be another proud summer for ESPN's coverage of the global game.[Fang's Bites]