While the World Cup is leaving ESPN for Fox in 2018, the lead voice of Bristol’s 2014 World Cup coverage is sticking around. That would be Ian Darke, who joined the Worldwide Leader ahead of the 2010 World Cup, delivered a standout performance there and quickly became ESPN’s top soccer announcer. He’ll continue in that role for some time to come, as ESPN announced Tuesday that Darke has signed a new deal that runs through 2020:
Darke will continue as ESPN’s primary voice for U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Teams’ matches, including FIFA World Cup qualifiers, and other tournaments and international friendlies. He will also pen a recurring column for ESPNFC.com and make periodic appearances on ESPN FC, the daily soccer television news and information program. The new contract extends through 2020.
This summer, Darke will be ESPN’s lead English-language play-by-play commentator for the UEFA European Football Championship 2016 in France (June 10 – July 10).
“Ian is one of the finest English-language commentators in the world and his work has elevated our overall presentation of soccer since he joined ESPN,” said Amy Rosenfeld, Senior Coordinating Producer, ESPN Productions. “Ian has become a destination listen and has the proven ability to appeal to a wide audience. We are thrilled he will continue as an integral member of our team for years to come.”
This contract suggests that ESPN is still heavily committed to soccer, and is committed for the long term despite not having a ton of regular or big-event rights. They still have some, including this summer’s Euro 2016 and a variety of U.S. national team matches, and retaining talent like Darke will help elevate those broadcasts. Darke has also proven to be a good fit in non-game situations, such as on ESPN FC, so there should be lots of value here for ESPN. There’s value here for him, too; while ESPN doesn’t have the regular soccer tonnage of NBC or Fox on a week-to-week basis, they’ve shown they’re still invested in the sport, and their broadcasts have been a good fit for Darke so far. It’s probably a good thing they didn’t trade him for Katie Nolan.