APNewsBreak: ESPN hires Jon Champion for World Cup
NEW YORK (AP) — Jon Champion has been hired by ESPN for its World Cup coverage, the network plans to announce Thursday, the fifth British play-by-play commentator among the six for its telecasts from Brazil.
Champion broadcast the Premier League’s Saturday tea-time matches for ESPN UK from 2009-13 and is heard regularly on world feed coverage used by NBC’s networks this season.
“My reputation in the UK is for speaking rather less than the majority of my colleagues and allowing the pictures to tell the story,” Champion said Wednesday during a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
Ian Darke, Adrian Healy and Derek Rae return from ESPN’s coverage four years ago, when four broadcast crews were used in South Africa. They will be joined by Daniel Mann, who called ESPN’s 3-D World Cup broadcasts in 2010. The non-British play-by-play man is Fernando Palomo, who was born in El Salvador and is ESPN’s lead announcer for Mexican national team matches.
Martin Tyler, ESPN’s lead broadcaster in 2010 and Sky Sports’ top announcer in Britain, terminated his deal after Darke spent the last four years as ESPN’s top soccer commentator.
This will be the 48-year-old Champion’s seventh World Cup overall and his first for a U.S. network. He previously worked for BBC Radio (1990, ’94), BBC TV (1998) and ITV (2002, ’06, ’10).
“He’s got a very, very sincere straightforward call that is probably more traditional than not,” said Jed Drake, ESPN’s senior vice president in charge of World Cup coverage. “At every turn I feel like I’m not just getting play by play, I’m getting a bit of context. I’m getting a bit of perspective, not unlike Ian in that regard.”
ESPN’s British slant contrasts with the approach of Fox, which intends to use well-known basketball announcer Gus Johnson as its top soccer commentator when it takes over U.S. rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Champion will be based in the Brazilian city of Salvador and is assigned to nine first-round matches. In addition, he will announce the U.S.-Azerbaijan exhibition in San Francisco on May 27 and four club preseason games in the U.S. this summer.
“There is an almost indefinable sense that you get when you walk into the stadium on the morning of your first World Cup game of a tournament, just a sense that you are dealing with the very highest level of the most popular sport on Earth,” Champion said. “I remember the awe and wonder I felt as a 25-year-old going to my first World Cup in Italy.”
Drake said Darke will call the U.S. first-round games paired with former American national team forward Taylor Twellman and England’s group-stage matches with former Liverpool and Real Madrid star Steve McManaman, his partner on ESPN’s Saturday U.S. Premier League telecasts from 2010-13. Darke will call the opener and final.
Twellman and McManaman also will comment from ESPN’s studio in Rio de Janeiro.
“Each of them has an ability to, shall we say, stir the pot a bit,” Drake said.
Champion, who lives about 90 miles northwest of London in Gloucestershire, is excited about broadcasting what may be the last event at Candlestick Park, which opened in 1960. He attended a 49ers game there in the 1980s when he bought a round-the-world plane ticket.
“I’m just looking forward to the challenge of broadcasting in a different environment to a different audience,” Champion said. “I think throughout one’s broadcasting career it’s good to put challenges in one’s way to make you think outside the box so that you don’t do everything just in a comfort zone and almost as a reflex. This will really make me think.”