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Three fearless predictions for Euro 2016
0:49 | Planet Futbol
Three fearless predictions for Euro 2016
Wednesday June 1st, 2016

If you are a fan of global soccer, June 11 is a day straight out of the dream factory, a soccer-gorged Saturday where Copa America Centenario and Euro 2016 converge for a five-game, 15-hour televised showcase of the beautiful game.

The lineup:

Albania vs. Switzerland, 9 a.m. ET (ESPN, ESPN Deportes)

Wales vs. Slovakia, 12 p.m. (ESPN, ESPN Deportes)

England vs. Russia, 3 p.m. (ESPN, ESPN Deportes)

USA vs. Paraguay 7 p.m. (FS1, Univision, Univision Deportes)

Colombia vs. Costa Rica 9 p.m. (FOX Sports 2, Univision, Univision Deportes)

It’s the first of three straight five-match days and a slice of what shapes up as the most impactful summer of televised soccer we’ve ever experienced in the United States.

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SI's Copa America Centenario picks

The month starts with Copa America, which runs from June 3-26 and features national teams from CONMEBOL (the South American football confederation) and CONCACAF (the football confederation for North and Central America) including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and the United States. The tournament will air on FS1, Univision and Univision Deportes, and will also be available on Fox Sports Go and Fox Soccer 2 Go.

It is the first Copa América hosted outside of South America and marks the 100th anniversary of the inaugural competition.

Then there is the UEFA European Championship, the quadrennial international men's football championship of Europe, which will be held in France from June 10 to July 10. That tournament will air on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, and features 24 of the top 45 national teams in the world according to the most recent FIFA ranking.

Having talked to executives at both ESPN and Fox Sports about their coverage, here’s what they have in store for you for what many are rightfully calling the Summer of Soccer.

Euro 2016

How many Euro 2016 matches will ESPN air?

ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes will combine to carry more than 200 hours of live coverage of the Euros including all 51 matches live on the English-language networks and 45 matches live on ESPN Deportes.

Who will be the lead commentators?

Ian Darke will handle the English-speaking call, while Fernando Palomo will handle the Spanish-language games. Both will call the final at Stade de France on July 10 for their networks.

What about the other match commentators?

Jon Champion (he has been designated by ESPN as its No. 2 match caller), Derek Rae, Adrian Healey, Max Bretos, and Mark Donaldson will also call games for ESPN. The play-by-play commentators for ESPN Deportes include Ricardo Ortiz, Omar Orlando Salazar, Emilio Fernando Alonso and Jorge Ramos. Healey will also have MLS duties during the Euros.

Who are the match analysts?

ESPN/ESPN2 match analysts include Taylor Twellman, Steve McManaman, Stewart Robson, Alejandro Moreno, Tommy Smyth, Paul Mariner, and former U.S. women’s national team defender Kate Markgraf, who will become the first female on U.S. television to serve as a color commentator for a top-tier international men’s soccer competition. The Spanish-language match analysts are Tato Noriega, Mario Kempes, Roberto Gomez Junco, Ricardo Mayorga and Hernan Pereyra.

What is the significance of Markgraf becoming the first women to serve as an analyst for a top-tier international men’s soccer competition?

“I can honestly say we have been thinking about this for a long time, because Kate is just a good soccer analyst,” said ESPN senior coordinating producer Amy Rosenfeld, the lead executive on site for ESPN. “I can’t wait until we are not talking about this anymore. Kate could be a purple llama as far as I am concerned. She just happens to be a great soccer analyst.”

Will Abby Wambach be working the Euros, as previously announced?

Yes. ESPN says Wambach, hired last month, will be a studio analyst and will be in Paris throughout the tournament, working in a similar capacity to other studio analysts such as Michael Ballack, Roberto Martinez, Kasey Keller, Frank Leboeuf, McManaman and more.

Do we know any of the English-speaking pairings?

Some. Darke will be paired with McManaman and Twellman during the tournament, though his partner for the semifinal and finals have not yet been determined. Champion and Robson will also be a partnership. Palomo and Noriega will call 16 matches for Deportes, including the opening match and the final. Ortiz and Kempes will call two quarterfinals and one semifinal in France. Markgraf will partner with Healy (they worked together at the 2011 Women’s World Cup) and also Bretos and Rae.

“You could put a lasagna in the booth with Ian and it’s still going to be great,” Rosenfeld said.

What about those assigned to report on the tournament?

Jeremy Schaap and Julie Foudy will serve as primary ESPN television reporters. Manu Martin and Martin Ainstein will serve as Spanish-language reporters for ESPN Deportes.

What are three must-watch games in the Group Stage?

June 13: Belgium vs. Italy, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN and ESPN Deportes).

June 16: England vs. Wales, 9:00 a.m. ET (ESPN and ESPN Deportes).

June 21: Croatia vs. Spain, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN and ESPN Deportes).

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How will postgames be handled?

Rosenfeld said ESPN’s post-game show for the early matches will be abbreviated–12 to 15 minutes with cuts to SportsCenter. Starting with the second match of the day, they’ll be a 30-minute post-game show morphing to a 30-minute pregame show followed by post-match coverage. Rosenfeld said it will be aggressive, featuring interviews and cut-ins to press conferences.

“We will really be able to tell the after-story and hear a lot from the players and managers,” she said. 

SiriusXM is carrying all Euro matches (broadcasts courtesy of ESPN), with most matches airing on SiriusXM FC (channel 85), and will also have pre and post-game shows around the matches.

Where is ESPN’s main set located?

ESPN will have an open air set on the banks of the Seine (with views of the Bateaux Mouches ferrying tourists), near the Pont Alexandre III Bridge.

What kind of viewership numbers should we expect?

The 31 Euro matches ESPN aired in 2012 averaged 1.3 million viewers, up 51% over 2008. Spain’s 4-0 victory over Italy in the 2012 final averaged 4.068 million viewers. This tournament should top those numbers.

“On these big tournaments we have had pretty good success at seeing ratings growth and there are not a lot of things that have ratings growth these days,” Rosenfeld said. “I am feeling bullish that soccer’s growth will lend itself to a bump in the ratings.”

Does ESPN consider Fox a competitor?

“Even though we are competitors we also partner with Fox with a lot of soccer and in many ways we both believe that it is better to grow the sport together,” Rosenfeld said. “My take on all of this is it will be good for both of us. We are not going to head to head. We do the early side and then hand it over to them. I’m just bummed I won’t be able to see the much of the Copa.”

How many staffers are working the tournament for ESPN?

ESPN has 350 working on the Euros including those in Bristol.

Does ESPN have any contingency plan for its employees should terrorism strike France during the tournament?

Here’s what Rosenfeld told John Ourand of the Sports Business Daily: “Unfortunately, you have to go worst-case scenario in your mind, and that involves how we best protect our people and how we best document what is happening. We’re not a news organization. We’re sports broadcasters. Unfortunately, over the years through a variety of events, we sometimes have to become news gatherers. We go through the checklist. What if cellphones were out? What if power goes out? What if the city’s in a lockdown? How do we protect our people and how do we get a signal out? That’s part of these events.”

Copa America Centenario

How many matches of the Copa America Centenario will Fox Sports air?

The networks of Fox Sports will televise all 32 matches of the tournament. The breakdown: Fox will air four matches; FS1 is scheduled to carry 21 matches including the Final on June 26 at 8 p.m. ET; FX has two quarterfinal matches and the third-place match, and FS2 will air four group-stage games. Every game is available on Fox Sports Go and Fox Soccer2Go mobile apps. In all, Fox Sports has scheduled 101 hours of match and studio coverage.

Fox has already announced its broadcaster teams, correct?

That is correct. The top team will be John Strong and Brad Friedel and they will call the final from Met Life Stadium on June 26.

The other announcing teams are: JP Dellacamera (announcer) and Stuart Holden; Justin Kutcher (announcer) and Cobi Jones; Mark Followill (announcer) and Jones; Followill and Herculez Gomez.

What about the studio analysts?

Rob Stone hosts pre-match, halftime and post-match commentary alongside Alexi Lalas, Fernando Fiore, Gomez, Eric Wynalda and Aly Wagner. The majority of pre-match shows will be 60 minutes in length, with the rest scheduled for 30 minutes.

Is it significant that Wagner will be analyzing men’s games?

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“She campaigned for the job,” said Fox Sports executive producer David Neal. “She essentially said to me, 'I love the fact that Alexi Lalas was on the Women’s World Cup. I should be considered to be on the men’s event.' She knows tactics and has given herself a crash course on the players and tactics for this tournament. A women who is put in the position of analyzing a men’s sport is always going to be held to an unfair standard. But she is great every way.”

Fiore is a well-known TV personality in Latin America. Will Fox do something unique with him?

Yes. Fiore will host nine special editions of Copa Tonight, an hour-long tournament-themed news and commentary program airing after selected matches where he will be joined by Lalas and Wagner. Look for Fiore to come off much different than a traditional U.S. host. He’ll be walking around his studio and doing different kinds of highlight packages. Fiore was a longtime presenter on República Deportiva, Univision’s weekly sports show, as well the travel series, Fuera de Serie, alongside Sofia Vergara, from 1995 to 1998.

Who will be the match reporters for Fox Sports?

Kyndra de St. Aubin, Jenny Taft, and Francisco X. Rivera. SI’s Grant Wahl will provide video essays, insider reports, and be part of Copa Tonight.

When are the U.S. men playing?

The U.S. men’s national team opens the tournament June 3 on FS1 (9:30 p.m. ET), hosting Colombia in a Group A match at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. The U.S. then plays Costa Rica on June 7 on FS1 (8 p.m. ET) at Soldier Field in Chicago. The final group game is set for June 11 against Paraguay (7 p.m., FS1) at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

What are three must-watch group-stage games?

June 4: Brazil vs. Ecuador (FS1, 10 p.m ET)

June 5: Mexico vs. Uruguay (FS1, 8 p.m. ET).

June 6: Argentina and Chile (FS1, 10 p.m. ET).

What can you tell us about the Univision coverage?

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Univision is the Spanish-language rights holder for the tournament and will show the entire tournament slate of 32 matches. Univision will air 18 games while UniMas has 15 games, according to a press release. Each game is also available on Univision Deportes. The tournament opener between the United States and Colombia will be covered across all three Univision networks, with all games having a minimum of two hours of live pre and post-game coverage.  

How big a ratings hit will Fox take if the U.S. is eliminated early?

Neal said while losing the U.S. early from the tournament is clearly not ideal, he believes it will not kill his company from a ratings perspective. He cited how well ESPN did for the World Cup in 2014 after the U.S. was eliminated. Fox also looks at Mexico as a second home team. They have assigned Dellacamera, Holden and Rivera to all of Mexico’s games.

Where is Fox’s main set located?

Fox will be at its Los Angeles studios until the final when it moves to MetLife Stadium.

What were the ratings for Copa America in 2015?

The Argentina-Chile Copa América final in 2015 drew a combined 1.5 million viewers on beIN Sports and beIN Sports en Espanol, down a third from the 2011 Uruguay/Paraguay final on Univision alone (2.3M). The Spanish-language telecast on beIN had 1.0 million viewers, while English-language coverage drew 464,000. Given Fox Sports has much bigger distribution than beIN, the numbers this year will be way, way up.

Does Fox Sports see this a dry run for the 2018 World Cup in Russia?

“I like to think you do every tournament and every event respecting that tournament and event but you will always get learnings for something else,” said Fox Sports president Eric Shanks. “But I can tell you we don’t sit around and say this is a dry run [for Russia]. We want to do the best we can for a tournament on American soil. Clearly, this is a big deal that has never happened before.”

How many staffers are working the tournament for Fox?

Approximately 125 including talent, production and technical crew.

Will Fox have its cameras at the games?

No. The network is using the sports production company Host Broadcasting Service (HBS), which should be good news for viewers. HBS has loads of experience broadcasting soccer and it offers networks everything, including a highlights show. It’s up to Fox Sports executives to decide when to leave its studio coverage to join the HBS live coverage. Neal said Fox viewers will get live coverage “the moment we see players coming out in the hallway.” That means you’ll get to hear all the national anthems, which is always a highlight.

Does Fox consider ESPN a competitor this month?

“With the Euros in the morning and afternoon, and Copa America Centenario in primetime, soccer fans in the U.S. will have a month of elite competition unlike any other in a non-World Cup year,” said Neal. “The real winner will be the continued growth of soccer in our country.” (Translation: Not this month.)

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