ESPN’s World Cup Coverage: So So So Far

As we’ve discussed here a few times, ESPN’s American television coverage of the 2010 World Cup not only marks a shift in their approach — with their “sophisticated” British commentary team (!) — it also faces greater pressure than ever to deliver a quality production.

Mere minutes after their coverage of today’s opening games concluded today, the verdicts were flying in on ESPN’s expensive work so far:

Soccer America loved the production values, but lamented the failure of Efan Ekoku to correctly call the offside decision given against Mexico for their disallowed goal: “The production quality of the opening game — from camera angles to well-timed close-ups — promises us a month’s worth of delightful viewing. One hopes the ESPN commentators will start getting the rules right.”

Ben Gossman at Broadcasting & Cable gave a full-on scoresheet on every aspect of the coverage. He rightly praises ESPN for dropping the traditional update ticker from the bottom of ESPN2′s picture and for the judicious use of onscreen graphics: “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.”

The AP’s television writer David Bauder provides perhaps the oddest review, lauding the use of the British use of “football” by Martin Tyler, but offering a very confusing summary of the mess made around the offside call in the first half:

The broadcasters’ experience wasn’t used to help viewers in the first half, when a Mexican player’s goal was disallowed by a referee’s offsides call.

“What an awful decision,” Okoku said.

He didn’t explain why, however, assuming his audience clearly understood rules about where players need to stand. Because ESPN was taking a worldwide feed of the game’s video, it couldn’t make its own production decisions – so after one, quick, inconclusive replay the play was largely gone and many viewers were left baffled about what actually happened.

What Bauder leaves unsaid is that it remains unclear if Ekoku did understand the rule correctly, or if anyone in ESPN’s production team at all did even well after the incident, as the failure to clear up what had actually happened was unacceptable: the replay clearly showed it wasn’t “an awful decision”. Many made initial misjudgments about the call — I tweeted “huh?” right away before being corrected myself — but never explaining what happened on a national broadcast (as far as I saw) does a disservice to the game and the officiating crew, who got it right.

My opinion on it all? Aside from all that, Ally McCoist might be British, but he’s making me wish for the days of Marcelo Balboa as a co-commentator at the World Cup again with his inane pronouncements. Well, almost.

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