ESPN kicked off its much-anticipated World Cup game coverage June 11, and while the match itself was absolutely riveting, from a production standpoint the early result was a mixture of great and awful. To borrow the ranking system of the authoritative sports business publication The Sports Business Daily, which categorizes newsmakers every week as Win, Lose or Draw, here is my review of ESPN’s South Africa-Mexico coverage.
NO SCROLL - In an absolutely fantastic decision that shows ESPN understands the magnitude of the event it is covering, it abandoned its lower-screen crawl of sports scores and news. Here’s hoping that is the case throughout the tournament.
GRAPHICS (OR LACK THEREOF) - Kudos to ESPN for not bombarding viewers with tons of graphics, which so often add nothing to a broadcast. The few times a graphic popped up, it was useful, such as the fact that host nations were 14-0-5 in opening matches prior to Friday’s affair.
AUDIO MIX - ESPN got it just right, making the African air horns - called vuvuzelas - prominent enough to establish the atmosphere without letting them drown out the commentators. Instead, the well-mixed natural sound perfectly complemented the sea of color and passion from the stands, which the cameras captured so well.
KNOWING THE RULES - Perhaps ESPN should consider very quickly finding a referee or former referee to add to its on-air team. When a Mexican goal was (correctly) disallowed due to an offside call, ESPN completely spit the bit. Not only did the commentators not know the rule, but at halftime ESPN barely acknowledged the happening, much less went back and correctly explained what had happened. A shocking lack of knowledge here.
PREGAME SHOW - Minutes before the long-anticipated first kick of a World Cup ball, ESPN lost the feed from inside the stadium and had to go to a break. When it came back from break, it went into a taped interview with a player - and then lost that and had to dump out. That’s amateur hour right before the World Cup opener. There’s been months to get the kinks out.
ANNOUNCERS MARTIN TYLER AND EFAN EKOKU - They were both fantastic for most of the match, doing a wonderful job of letting the match and the atmosphere be the show. There was no sign of trying to force in stupid catchphrases or to try to one-up the action, as is the way of so many American broadcasters. However, misinterpreting the offside rule on a crucial play relegates the duo to a draw rating. Too big a stage for that.