With the last day of the 2013 season taking place Sunday, ESPN signed off after four successful years broadcasting live weekly English Premier League games. Starting in the 2010 season, ESPN struck gold with the pairing of Brits Ian Darke and Steve McManaman. Darke had gained cult status in the USA after his enthusiastic World Cup calls while former Liverpool player McManaman had also played a role in South Africa in the ESPN studio.
The best broadcast booths are always the ones that have a natural chemistry and Darke and McManaman possessed that in spades. The fact that they were on-site throughout England and were veterans of covering and playing in the league made them a landmark pairing for American viewers. As they signed off for the final EPL broadcast before rights move to NBC next year, ESPN paid tribute to Darke and Macca with what else… an outtake reel!
Classic. And, a different side that we haven't seen of Darke and Macca. Truthfully, in several years, we may look back at ESPN's EPL coverage as transformational in the American sports landscape. Never before has top European soccer been brought into American homes in such an informative, entertaining, intimate way that brought the game close to home. You could wake up Saturday morning with Darke and McManaman and feel like you were watching any other American broadcast.
Announcers may not have a tangible impact on ratings, but there's no questioning the positive influence the teaming of Ian Darke and Steve McManaman had on the continued growth of soccer in America. Even though their partnership on ESPN's EPL coverage lasted a few short years, they cemented themselves as one of the most enjoyabe pairings in sports. The plans for NBC's EPL coverage look promising, but it won't quite be the same next year.