It's not often remarked upon, but ESPN has done remarkably well as a US sport(s) broadcaster breaking into the notoriously parochial UK sporting scene. As well as its excellent rugby coverage, ESPN has managed to cover the game its executives refer to as 'soccer' without causing dyed-in-the-wool British footie fans to grind their teeth. In part this has been down to judicious recruiting of experienced presenters and pundits, but ESPN has also generated a chunk of goodwill through its mobile strategy: chiefly, the ability to see all Premier League goals thoughts its ESPN Goals app. Next in the march to challenge Sky's dominance of all things mobile and sporting is another app: ESPNsoccernet. See also: Best iPhone and iPad apps.
ESPNsoccernet is a personalised version of the ESPNsoccernet.com website, offering football news, scores and analysis from major football leagues worldwide, tailored to your favoured teams and competitions. An iPhone app is available now, and ESPN promises that Android, Windows Phone and - [raises eyebrows] - Symbian apps will follow.
We must confess that we have never been avid users of ESPNsoccernet. When we started personalising the app we sort of understood why.
ESPNsoccernet app: major league?
First choice: pick the team you support. All major teams are available, but the list of popular clubs shows just how global ESPN's coverage is and, unlike Sky's superficially similar Sky Sports Football Score centre app, you can't choose to follow a team from the Football Conference or lower. By default the three 'major' leagues the app selects for you to follow are the Premier League, the Football League Championship and, er, Major League Soccer. (Note to ESPN: people in the US don't care for MLS, people in the UK know of its existence only because we packed off an ageing clothes horse to boost his pension by prancing about Stateside.) See also: Best Android apps.
But that is parochial sniping in the grand British football tradition. What matters is the content, and how easy it is to access and interact with it. After personalising the app, it's simple and - crucially - quick to view all the scores from your chosen teams, although the personalisation is a filtering process that excludes information relating directly to teams and competitions you aren't directly passionate about. So aliens could land during a League 1 match, and you'd likely not read about it.
ESPNsoccernet app: design
The design is intuitive, and tables, stats and scores take precedance. (Speed is important when you are conceding seven at home to Nottingham Forest.) You can also see all news about your teams grouped in one place, as well as a preview of the next game. During that game you can access live text commentary, and live stats. One feature we really liked was push notifications of goals, half time scores and full time results. If you've ever wandered the aisles of Ikea wondering how your team is getting on but unable to check your phone without attracting the approbrium of your life partner, this app is your saviour... if you follow a top-flght team in England, Spain, Germany, France or Italy. Or, of course, the US. Given that the UK's second tier - the Championship (or second division to those in the know) - is the sixth biggest league in the world, this is an oversight to say the least. And where is Scotland? In the UK we care about our team, regardless of how good, bad or indifferent they are.
We'd have appreciated a dedicated page for each team, with upcoming fixtures and past results. ESPNsoccernet does offer a calendar view within each competition, showing details of the most recent results, and upcoming games. Indeed, the depth of global data and breadth of news coverage available via this app is unsurpassed, which is appropriate for the world's most comprehensive coverer of sport. But it doesn't feel all the relevant to a UK audience.
ESPNsoccernet app: video
The app offers access to ESPNsoccernet's range of video clips and podcasts, as well as the ESPNsoccernet Press Pass show that airs on the channel proper. There's video content from ESPN's studio-based discussion and analysis shows, but for the real action from the Premier League you'll have to use ESPN Goals. This is understandable, as media rights for sport are a hornet's nest of epic proportions, and it does go to show what an incredible scoop ESPN Goals is. But it does also rather expose the relatively dull nature of the video clips in this app: and unlike Sky's app, you can't click through to watch ESPN live, even if you are a subscriber (for that you'll have to use Sky Go). See also: How to watch Sky Go on a laptop or PC.
One final 'feature' gives a clue to ESPN's revenue model for this app: integration with William Hill for betting purposes. You can place a bet with a single click from within the app, which will be a boon to many (and a terrifying prospect for my bank manager).