Jon Champion is making a Brexit of his own, leaving England to become ESPN's lead announcer for Major League Soccer.
The 53-year-old has been broadcasting British matches since 1988 and is heard around the world calling games for Premier League Productions. He has been working part-time for ESPN during international fixture breaks and starts an exclusive contract with the network on Feb. 1. He plans to move to the Boston area, within commuting distance from ESPN's campus in Bristol, Connecticut.
''I've still got a lot of good years ahead of me, and I think I'm still young enough to adjust to a new challenge,'' he said in a telephone interview. ''I just fancy a little bit more of something that's growing. The Premier League has now reached a point where it is a fully matured competition, and I've been part of that journey seeing it at close quarters. And it will be nice to go into an environment again where the product is on the way up and it's growing and it's maturing. And if I can play a little part in telling the story of MLS as it grows, then I think that will be quite good fun.''
Champion will pair with former U.S. forward Taylor Twellman as ESPN's lead crew for MLS. Ian Darke, another English announcer, is ESPN's lead soccer broadcaster and usually pairs with Twellman on U.S. national team matches.
Champion's hiring signals ESPN's commitment to soccer under network president James Pitaro, an executive with The Walt Disney Co. who succeeded John Skipper last March.
''I was obviously keen to find out what ESPN's attitude to soccer was going to be going forward, so I had a fairly detailed conversations with a number of executives in the company, and I went into those knowing how strong a supporter of soccer John Skipper was when he was at the helm of the company and that maybe the commitment would be reduced. In fact, I found it to be the opposite.''
ESPN broadcast the World Cup from 1994-2014 but lost 2018-26 to Fox. ESPN shares U.S. Soccer Federation and MLS rights with Fox and ahead of this season acquired Italy's Serie A, a staple of the ESPN+ streaming service that launched last April. ESPN also has rights to the 2020 European Championship.
Amy Rosenfeld, ESPN's senior coordinating producer for soccer, had been trying for several years to persuade Champion to make the move.
Champion will be moving along with wife Anna and 16-year-old son Will. Daughter Emily, 23, works in Revlon Inc.'s marketing department in London; 20-year-old son Ben is in his third year at St. Andrews University in Scotland and 19-year-old Harry is taking a gap year before starting at the University of Edinburgh in September.
Champion is scheduled to call Premier League matches through Newcastle-Manchester City on Jan. 29, including the big Manchester City-Liverpool game on Jan. 3. Rosenfeld said it will be determined on a case-by-case basis whether Champion can call Premier League games and tournaments if it doesn't interfere with his ESPN work.
Adrian Healy, who had been ESPN's lead MLS voice, will still be a major presence in ESPN's soccer coverage.
''Production needs to up its game to keep up with programming,'' he said. ''Our commitment at this stage is the greatest it's ever been.''
Champion worked for ESPN UK as its lead soccer announcer from 2009-13 and was part of the U.S. network's coverage of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship. He has worked for ESPN broadcasting preseason exhibitions and traveled to Bristol to call World Cup and European Championship qualifiers from the studio.
He made his decision after consulting with, among others, former English referee Howard Webb; former Premier League defender Liam Ridgewell, now with Portland; former Tottenham executive Darren Eales, now Atlanta United's president; and former Seattle Sounders midfielder Andy Rose, now with Motherwell.