We were lucky enough to nab an interview with ESPN's Ian Darke, who Matt labeled the "hottest announcer in the country," before yesterday's big USA-Mexico friendly on ESPN2. From there it was all downhill as ESPN's soccer coverage trudged through a very long day.
The first setback occurred when it was announced that NBC/NBC Sports Network has procured a very significant soccer package starting in 2012. The bulk of games will be on NBC Sports Network (currently Versus), with select games airing on NBC, which will also include some national team games. ESPN already has their soccer package and it's considered the top package, but the long term implications are a bit ominous.
ESPN was pretty comfortable with the sports tier channel, Fox Soccer, as both their partner and competitor in soccer coverage. That's not a slight to Fox Soccer but just a tip of the hat to NBC/NBC Sports Network who is well known to be the only real possible threat to the ESPN empire. The folks who continues to clamor for a true ESPN competitor need to realize it's probably going to take a full decade to materialize and that progress will be slow. The addition of the soccer package to NBC Sports is a very nice win for them and a smart bet.
Things only got worse for ESPN as a Little League World Series game, well, actually a regional semifinal or something, ran long and interrupted the broadcast of the soccer match. Not the biggest deal in the world as most folks were able to flip over to ESPN News, but a lot of people were surprised and maybe even offended by the decision to stick with the baseball game. SI's Grant Wahl certainly took note:
• Come on, ESPN. It was strange: ESPN sure treated USA-Mexico like a big game before it started. The SportsNation crew was here today with Michelle Beadle, and a cavalry of a half-dozen ESPN broadcasters was also on-hand, causing me to think the network was sort of overhyping this friendly. But the Worldwide Leader undermined everything by shunting the first 20 minutes of the game over to ESPNews so that a Little League World Series *qualifier* could finish on ESPN2. The network may have policies that call for such measures, but it sure came off as a statement that this game didn't mean much at all.
ESPN has done an excellent job in their soccer coverage and today was another solid effort, but to the trained eye there were a couple of modest missteps that stood out as uncharacteristic. The first came in the seconds leading up to the climatic moment of the game when the US tied the game with a slick goal, the first of the Klinsmann era. Unfortunately, though, the majority of the setup work was not shown live as ESPN was showing replay of the previous attack.
That's not a big deal and is more just bad luck as opposed to sloppy production. Still, the moment was cheapened a bit as you were left wondering "how did they set that up?" Nothing else really stuck out as abnormal during the rest of the game, but in the Sportscenter following the game there was some type of miscommunication/production snafu as Bristol went to Bob Ley live while he seemed to be in the dark on that:
Ley is a pro and ESPN's soccer coverage has been superb. Still, this odd moment with the missed setup of the goal, the ESPN News kickoff, and NBC's foray into soccer all combine for a pretty rough day for a network that has had nothing but high marks over the last year or so broadcasting the world's most popular sport. This got me thinking........ Is this the start of the Matt Yoder AA podcast curse?