The Premier League football seasons in England and Scotland — the EPL and SPL, respectively — began this past weekend (Aug. 15-16), and there was as much expectation on how the broadcasters would fare as on how the teams would. ESPN has made its first moves into British football after picking up EPL rights packages previously held by Setanta Sports and is sharing the SPL with Sky Sports.
The American broadcaster launched an HD/SD UK channel on Aug. 3. Called simply ESPN, it is offering live coverage of 46 EPL games during the 2009-10 season and 30 SPL matches over the next three years, plus Italian Serie A, German Bundesliga, Dutch Eredivisie, Portuguese Liga and Russian Premier League football, German touring cars, and the European Basketball Championship.
ESPN is available on the Sky satellite platform, BT Vision, Top Up TV on the Freeserve DTT service, and Virgin Media. Sky is producing live feeds of games for ESPN’s EPL coverage, while IMG is handling the studio presentation. All match production for ESPN’s SPL broadcasts has been organised by IMG.
NEP Visions was already working with Sky on its HD EPL coverage and has now been contracted to provide OB facilities for ESPN. In Scotland, O21 Television is supplying scanners for both Sky’s and ESPN’s SPL broadcasts. A spokesman for Sky Sports says that, in terms of shooting and direction, the aim is to produce a familiar look for ESPN’s coverage, with the only difference being the presentation team. “That’s why we’re working with people who are familiar with Sky’s production style,” he adds.
An ESPN spokesman confirms this, saying that viewers will not be able to differentiate between the basic feeds of the ESPN and Sky broadcasts or the SD and HD coverage. “Where there is differentiation is in the presenters, the pundits, and the commentators, who have been chosen by us,” he says, adding that ESPN has full editorial responsibility for programming that goes out under its name, including match coverage and studio programming.
ESPN’s team of presenters includes former BBC Sport stalwart Ray Stubbs and Kelly Cates from Sky Sports News, with commentators Jon Champion, most recently heard on Setanta, and Derek Rae, who was already working for ESPN.