Backline: ESPN's Derek Rae blazes new trail

Just because he'll be less accessible for viewers in the United States doesn't mean Derek Rae is any less busy.

The longtime ESPN commentator and primary play-by-play voice of European Champions League coverage on the network is embarking on a new assignment: splitting time between the United States and United Kingdom as ESPN launches a new UK channel.

After a decade of mostly working games off the monitor from ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., Rae is calling Scottish Premier League games and Europa League games from stadium locations during frequent trips across the Atlantic.

"We're always on-site, we're always at the game, and that's really one of the joys of this," said Rae from a hotel during a trip in mid-September. "Having been off the tube, as you know, for most of the games, it's wonderful to be back and have the scent in the nostrils, as I like to say."

He still lives in Beverly, Mass., and will continue to host "ESPNSoccernet Press Pass" and do other studio work when he's back in the United States.

"The typical week, now, is that nothing is typical," says Rae, a native of Aberdeen who made his mark at BBC Scotland before coming to the United States to work as a venue press officer at the 1994 World Cup. He was the TV play-by-play commentator for the New England Revolution during the early years of MLS.

"The way it works is about half the time I'm in Connecticut, and the other half I'm over here. We have 30 SPL games for the UK channel, and I do all of them. We're also doing the Europa League games when they happen, so I'll be over here for a week to 10 days.

"The other weeks I'll come in the day before the [SPL] game, do the game, and then come back. It's been a bit of both so far, in the early part of the season."

The new UK channel is an offshoot of ESPN International, for which Rae has worked extensively for more than a decade. For every game U.S. viewers may have heard him call on ESPN2 or another domestic outlet, he's probably worked another half-dozen for an international audience. Those commitments haven't changed.

"I was back in the States for a World Cup qualifying week [in September], and I did about seven or eight games in four or five days off-tube over there, and also hosted Press Pass, which I'm still heavily involved in," says Rae of his whirlwind schedule. "It takes a bit of getting used to, but it's all positive, the way I see it. It's exciting and for me, it's going back to where I started."

ESPN has also bought rights to the English Premier League. Those games air domestically on ESPN2 and in Britain on the new channel but are not assigned to Rae. Ironically, to hear Rae call a game in the United States takes some luck: occasionally, SPL games he works for the ESPN UK channel are aired by Setanta Sports USA.

Rae, who says the game first captured him as a 7-year-old watching Johan Cruyff at the 1974 World Cup, regrets that ESPN lost the Champions League rights to the Fox Networks but has moved on.

"Certainly we were all wondering what was going to happen, because the Champions' League has been such a huge part of my own broadcasting career," says Rae, 42. "It was dear to my heart and always will be.

"Obviously I knew we'd still have a good number of events for the international market, and that's great fun. But all this happened very quickly in late June and early July."

He doesn't yet know what will be his role, if any, for ESPN's 2010 World Cup coverage, but is relishing a new assignment and frequent visits to his homeland.

"I've been with the company about 15 years now, and it's kind of like being a trailblazer," he says. "With this being a brand-new channel, it's great to be there from day one."

(This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue of Soccer America magazine.)



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