Darke to remain ESPN's lead soccer broadcaster through 2020
Ian Darke has agreed to stay with ESPN as its lead soccer broadcaster through 2020 despite the network's loss of World Cup rights to Fox.
Hired by ESPN in 2010, Darke will remain as part of the network's primary commentary team for U.S. men's and women's national team matches and for this year's European Championship, which runs from June 10 to July 10.
ESPN is also working to complete a deal for U.S. English-language rights to the 2020 Euros plus European qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup, the 2020 Euros and the other international matches involving UEFA teams on FIFA dates.
''I don't see any point in moving,'' Darke said last weekend in a production trailer outside blustery Upton Park in London, where he was preparing to call West Ham's Premier League match against Sunderland for BT Sport. ''I love covering the U.S. games. ESPN have been one of the best things that have happened in my career, really.''
Darke gained prominence for his call of Landon Donovan's injury-time goal against Algeria in 2010 that advanced the Americans to the World Cup knockout stage. ESPN made him its lead broadcaster three months later, and he announced weekly Premier League matches for ESPN through 2012-13. He switched his England base to BT when NBC took over Premier League rights.
Darke thinks switching back and forth from a European network to an American one is a seamless transition.
''The audience is that much more sophisticated in the United States now. People know what they're watching; they're watching the European leagues every week,'' he said. ''I think it would be an insult to the audience to try to sort of tailor it in some kind of dumbed-down way. They appear to appreciate the way we do it, anyway. So absolutely no need to change.''
He does enjoy the greater comfort of broadcast booths in U.S. stadiums.
''Today I will have to sort of almost like vault over a sort of a little metal fence to get into our commentary position,'' he said. ''We're always outdoors and there's never luxurious desks. There's never enough place to put your notes, and there's wind and rain.''
He will be back in the U.S. to call the Americans' World Cup qualifier against Guatemala on March 29 at Columbus, Ohio. He gets up to speed before U.S. matches when ESPN meets with coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
''I do think the team is in a bit of a difficult place,'' Darke said. ''I do think the qualifying will be harder than it's been for some time because the young players who he is bringing through, not enough of them really so far have proved themselves up to performing at the kind of level that the team was used to when they had Donovan and (Clint) Dempsey and Tim Howard at his peak. They're kind of looking to rebuild and find a new generation of stars.''
While Fox has U.S. rights to the next three World Cups through 2026, ESPN is maintaining its hold on the Euros. The 2020 tournament will be played in 13 cities in 13 different UEFA members.
''It's going to be like a tour of European capitals,'' he said. ''We're going to feel kind of like tourists.''