Tuesday, August 18, 2009

New faces? Not so much

How would ESPN fill the hole left behind by doomed broadcaster Setanta?

By producing what is essentially a carbon copy of Setanta if their first live game of the season is any guide.

They have turned away from being at the games. Instead we've got Ray Stubbs in a studio. A safe pair hands is Raymond. Under used by the BBC and given his big chance by ESPN. I always found him better when paired with Bobby George or being humiliated for Sport Relief.

Clearly ESPN felt that a bejewelled darts star and their anchor being suspended from a crane would jar with their coverage.

So instead they've turned to Colin Hendry and Jim Duffy. Not a duo of much dynamism. Hendry is adequate but needs more than serial abuser of football clubs Duffy alongside him.

Ray probed gently at half time but by the time he handed back to the live action he seemed half hearted.

Craig Levein would have some concerns about the free kicks United were giving away. We knew this because Jim and Colin told us. Repeatedly. An ad break, featuring a woeful trail for Falkirk and Hibs on Saturday, was a blessed relief.

In the gantry we had Derek Rae back after an 18 year absence. The one time golden boy of the BBC Rae left for the States to work for the 1994 World Cup - time spent apparently ingratiating himself with TV executives rather than teaching Diana Ross how to play soccer ball.

Now ESPN's chief soccer "caller" Rae was quietly impressive. He seems relaxed enough to avoid the hyperbole that is all too common. You get the impression that when he's commentating on a real stinker he'll not hesitate to let us know. That's refreshing and let's hope he sticks with that style.

Resurrected from Setanta as co "caller" was Craig Burley. Craig has spent his retirement growing into the punditry role. It's no exaggeration to say that he's now as adept at the gig as his uncle George is at managing an international football team.

New surroundings don't seem to have helped much. Craig basically takes the same script to every match and just reels out the same observations at every game.

Another 29 games in Craig's company is as appealing as the realisation that you've bought a season ticket next to a halitosis suffering fat boy with opinions so racist and homophobic that he'd make Nick Griffin blush. I'm sure Craig's none of those things but the temptation to hit the mute button will be very strong in the months ahead.

So there we are. It was it what it was. Not brilliant, not dreadful. The logos have changed but the coverage has plateaued. It's early enough to improve but tonight suggested that the cast list condemns ESPN to a season in different shades of dull.

I'm not sure as yet how they're going to deal with highlights and other programming. Setanta used James Richardson to decent effect doing this for the English Premier League and ESPN seem attached to discussion programmes in the States. It would be nice if they could replicate this in Scotland.

Note: If anybody stumbles across this post because Nick Griffin is mentioned please visit Hope Not Hate and tell the BNP: Not In My Name!