NEW YORK (AP) — Jon Champion has had to adjust to broadcasting soccer off a television screen during the pandemic.
ESPN will have just one of five commentary crews on site for the European Championship, sending Britain-based Ian Darke and Stewart Robson to some of the eight matches at Wembley in London while calling up to 43 games from its studios in Bristol, Connecticut, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Champion will be paired with Taylor Twellman in Bristol and will work nine group-stage matches, up from an original six.
“It’s a bit like putting a straightjacket on really in terms of what you can do,” Champion said Tuesday. “You never quite trust what you’re seeing on a TV screen in the same way that you trust what you’re seeing with your own eyes.
“And that manifests itself particularly in the calling of goals, because if you have, say, a cross from the right-hand side and three players go up to try to hit the ball and one of them makes contact and the goal is scored, if you’re there at the stadium, part of your skill and preparation as a match announcer is being able to identify in an instant who scored, but if you’re seeing it on a TV monitor, it’s less distinct and you might be 80% certain.”
For the 2016 Euros in France, ESPN called 28 matches on site and 23 from Bristol.
Champion was paired with Robson at the 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship, and they originally had been slated to work together again.
Darke was paired with both Steve McManaman and Twellman at the 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship.
Since moving to the U.S. from Britain and going to work for ESPN full time in 2019, Champion has been paired with Twellman as ESPN’s top team for Major League Soccer telecasts, and the pair have broadcast the FA Cup and League Cup finals for ESPN. They will broadcast the opening match between Italy and Turkey on June 11.
“Hopefully, if quarantine regulations ease, we’ll head to Europe ahead of the quarterfinals,” Champion said.
MLS matches last season and this have been called from the studio. Champion hopes the announcer teams will return to MLS stadiums after the Euros.
“The vast majority of my career has always been on site at the stadium, which is how I like it. That’s the real appeal of the job — being there. So this has just been needs must really for the last year,” Champion said.
“It’s immensely frustrating because you don’t have that wider picture. You only have what the match director serves you. So you can’t really see the pattern of the game or the work off the ball developing. You can’t see if two players square up to each other and are trading punches 50 yards off the ball. And then you’ve also got the added mystery of the VAR, because the authorities are so reluctant to let the wider public, including we broadcasters, into the inner secrets of VAR,” or Video Assistant Referee.
ESPN’s other crews for the Euros are Derek Rae and Efan Ekoku, Steve Cangialosi and Alejandro Moreno, and Mark Donaldson and Matteo Bonetti.
Rather than award the Euros to one or two nations, the Union of European Football Associations made the decision in 2012 to split this year’s tournament among many nations. It will be played through July 11 in Amsterdam; Baku, Azerbaijan; Bucharest, Romania; Budapest, Hungary; Copenhagen, Denmark; Glasgow, Scotland; London; Munich; Rome; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Seville, Spain.
The games will be split among ABC, ESPN and ESPN2. Univision has U.S. Spanish-language rights through its TUDN sports division.
This year’s Euros, delayed a year by the pandemic, will overlap the time period of the Copa America from June 13 to July 10. In addition, the CONCACAF Gold Cup is from July 10 to Aug. 1.
Fox has U.S. English-language rights to the Copa América and the Gold Cup, and Univision has U.S. Spanish-language rights to both.
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