After eight days of watching World Cup coverage on both ESPN, ESPN3.com, Univision and Univision.com and listening to ESPN Radio, it’s time to give a review of the multimedia coverage of one of the World’s Greatest Sports Events. I’ll break it down by Studio, Game, Online and Radio.
This is an area where ESPN excels. By bringing in Bob Ley, Mike Tirico and Chris Fowler, ESPN has three experienced hosts who can be both traffic cop and can offer strong opinions. Bob Ley has a tendency to offer analysis during his stints which is what the analysts are for, but you know that Bob loves soccer and loves hosting this event. His best moments have been with Alexi Lalas.
Mike Tirico is to ESPN as Bob Costas is to NBC. He’s very versatile and he allows his analysts to shine.
Chris Fowler is an excellent host whether it be on college football, tennis and now in soccer. Again, he hands the ball to his partners so they can offer analysis and he gets out of the way.
ESPN has hired a Who’s Who of Soccer for analysis. They might not be household names in the United States, but for worldwide soccer fans, the network brought in an All-Star team of coaches and players to analyze the World Cup.
Of the analysts, only Alexi Lalas is American and he has been on ESPN’s coverage over the few years so he’s been familiar on soccer telecasts. ESPN hired Ruud Gullit, Steve McManaman, Jurgen Klinsmann and Roberto Martinez to join Lalas in the studio. Guillit and McManaman have done soccer TV work in the UK and Martinez is the current coach of Wigan in the English Premier League. All five have done quite well, although Martinez has had a little trouble finishing his thoughts in the time constraints of TV. However, ESPN has built an excellent studio team and I give this area of ESPN’s coverage an A.
I’ve been watching Univision’s coverage since 2002 and Fernando Fiore has been Univision’s host for the event since that time. He does a tremendous job in doing the highlights and introducing segments. Fiore is truly in his element.
And before the World Cup pregame, there’s Republica Deportiva with a live band, Las Senadoras, a live studio audience and lots of dancing. This is how every sports pregame show should be presented. Highlights interspersed with high energy and dancing. And of course, there are Las Senadoras, Carolina, Alba and Natalia. I joked to a Fox Sports PR person that Las Senadoras should be hired for Fox NFL Sunday.
Seriously, the World Cup pregame for Univision, Viva El Mundial, is done very well with plenty of analysis, interviews and highlights. Univision has been doing this event for a long time and it shows. If my understanding of Spanish was better, I would give this a higher grade, but for presentation and production values, I give Univision a B for its pregame. Republica Deportiva gets an A just for its high energy alone.
Both ESPN and Univision rely on the world feed provided by the host broadcaster so the game presentation is the same as far as that is concerned. However, where the two differ is on the announcers and the actual quality of the video. I’ll grade them on this.
In 2008 when ESPN picked up the rights to the Euro Cup, the network utilized Derek Rae and Adrian Healey on play-by-play and Andy Gray and Tommy Smyth on analysis. The coverage was well received by soccer fans. Seeing this, ESPN went one step further and hired a mostly British crew for the calls of the World Cup. Martin Tyler was brought in from Sky Sports’ English Premier League coverage, Ian Darke also from Sky Sports, Rae and Healey round out the play callers. Analysis is done by John Harkes, the lone American on this crew, Efan Ekoku of the BBC, Ally McCoist and Robbie Mustoe.
I’ve always enjoyed Derek Rae on ESPN. Healey is ok and Darke and Tyler are veteran announcers. However, Tyler who is very good on the EPL, is too dull for my tastes on the World Cup. I know it’s the British stiff upper lip and all, but he hardly raises his level during an exciting play. I don’t mean he has to go Screamin’ Gus Johnson on us, but he doesn’t get too high or too low. Darke did call a very good game for USA-Slovenia and captured the right mood when the US was coming back.
Harkes does very good analysis and I’m happy to hear him call important games. I’m also happy not to have Marcelo Balboa on this World Cup. He was absolutely horrible in 2006. I haven’t had too many problems with the other analysts except for Ally McCoist whose Scottish accent is very difficult to understand at times.
I know many of you are annoyed with the vuvuzelas that are prominent on every game in South Africa, but I got used to them last year during the Confederations Cup. They don’t annoy me, but ESPN has really filtered them down to the point where they’re hardly noticeable.
I give ESPN a B for the announcing crews.
I don’t have names unfortunately, but the Univision crews sound like they’re having conversations during the games which is something I can’t say for the ESPN crews. In addition, who can’t love the “GOOOOOOOOOLLLLLL!!” calls? There seems to be more spirit and character in the play-by-play in the Univision coverage. The vuvuzelas are not filtered as much as ESPN. They are quite prominent, but again, I don’t have a problem with them as many viewers around the world have. Due to the energy level which is much higher than ESPN’s, I give Univision an A.
Another reason to watch Univision HD is the quality of the video. It’s brighter and clearer than ESPN HD. I often watch the pregame on ESPN then watch the game on Univision.
I’ve been listening to games in my car thanks to ESPN’s iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch World Cup app. While pricey at $7.99, this app gives you live game audio, plenty of in-game video and lots of stories. It’s worth the price especially if you’re away from a TV.
The team of JP Dellacamera and Tommy Smyth call each USA game along with the major matches of each day. I wish JP had been tapped for TV, but his calls on radio are very good. He and Tommy are in Bristol, CT calling games off a monitor, but that will change in the Round of 16 as they will be in South Africa on-site. JP and Tommy are the best of the three teams on radio. JP identifies where the ball is at all times and does not make it feel that he’s calling games off a TV.
On the other hand, Glenn Davis and Kyle Martino do a horrible job in giving the listener the time remaining, how much stoppage time is left and identifying where the ball is. Davis calls the game as if we’re watching, which we’re not. Plus, Davis has said on several occasions, “You’re watching the World Cup on ESPN Radio,” or “You’re watching and listening to the World Cup on ESPN Radio.” Glenn, we’re listening. We can’t watch. You’re watching and you’re supposed to be describing the action for us.
The third team, Ross Dyer and Shep Messing, is average.
ESPN Radio’s team gets a B minus as the two teams other than JP and Tommy bring the quality down.
ESPN’s online service can only be seen by internet service providers that have made deals with the Alleged Worldwide Leader. While not every ISP has a deal, those that do not only have access to ESPN’s game broadcast in English, but also to those in Portuguese, Japanese and other languages. My problem is the picture is quite small and difficult to see. While you can go to full screen mode, it’s not made for those at work. Due to this problem, my grade for ESPN3.com is C.
When you log into Univision.com, an ad plays right off the bat, but this is a minor inconvenience. You can integrate Facebook and discuss the game with other people, but you certainly don’t have to. And the ad background is constantly changing. Again, these are all minor inconveniences. The video quality is excellent. The size of the picture is large meaning you don’t have to squint as with ESPN3. And the picture is in HD which is quite welcomed on this end. Due to the quality and size of the picture, Univision’s live streaming gets an A.
So overall, ESPN’s grade is B.
Univision gets an A minus.