ESPN is firming up its World Cup coverage plans, including announcing today that it will show the U.S.-England game on ABC HD.
Gotta love this quote from ESPN’s executive vice president of content from the story below:
“At some point you’ve got to treat it like the significant sporting event that is,” said John Skipper. “I understand it has not traditionally stopped work and stopped the country to watch it in past years. But we’re going to treat it like it should.”
It will and it does, Skippy. Just not in your parochial world.
And let us know when ESPN starts taking MLS seriously, too. Hey, at least we’ll get rid of those amateurish broadcasts with the announcers stuck in a U.S. television studio. About time.
Here’s the story:
NEW YORK (AP) — At ESPN’s offices in Bristol, Conn., a World Cup countdown clock is outdoors, clicking down the hours until the kickoff on June 11.
A room inside has a “Wheel of Fortune” style spinner, where staffers can come in to pick up additional teams to root for. But when the action shifts to South Africa, ESPN and ABC will make a major shift in their coverage.
The U.S. networks will have crews on site for all 64 games at the 10 stadiums.
During the 2006 tournament in Germany, two of five crews stayed home and called 20 matches from the U.S. studios.
“At some point you’ve got to treat it like the significant sporting event that is,” said John
Skipper, ESPN’s executive vice president of content. “I understand it has not traditionally
stopped work and stopped the country to watch it in past years. But we’re going to treat it like it should.”
The networks, owned by The Walt Disney Co., announced Wednesday that 10 games will be on ABC, including the U.S.-England matchup on June 12 and the final on July 11.
ESPN will televise 44 matches, with the remaining 10 on ESPN2. All but the ABC games also will be on ESPN360.com, 46 games will be on ESPN Mobile TV and every game will be replayed at night on ESPN Classic.
In what appears to be an attempt to ambush Univision’s Spanish-language coverage, ESPN Deportes will broadcast up to 40 matches — Cristiano Ronaldo fans take note — in Portuguese.
ESPN2 will go all soccer for a 24-hour countdown before the opener.
The pre-World Cup concert will be televised live on ESPN on June 10, with an edited version replayed on ABC the following night. ESPN plans about 250 hours of originally programming around the games.
Jed Drake, an ESPN vice president who is executive producer of its World Cup coverage, said the network is sending 165 people to South Africa and will have 50 local hires — double the staff it used four years ago. The network will be broadcasting soccer 12 hours a day during the first round.
“The level of ambition we have for this project is second to none compared to anything we do at ESPN,” he said.
ABC/ESPN acquired rights to the 2010 and 2014 tournaments directly from FIFA in late 2005 for $100 million. For the previous two World Cups, the rights were owned by Soccer United Marketing, an affiliate of Major League Soccer that bought them for $40 million and then purchased air time. Univision bought the Spanish-language U.S. rights for 2010 and 2014 for $325 million.
But South Africa especially will be an expensive place to produce.
One of ESPN’s first actions was to hire its own private security company for the tournament. The logistical issues are unusual for a major event.
“How are you going to get around? Eat? Sleep? Get to the stadium? Get in and out? Get there on time? Park or take the bus in?” said Skipper, who thinks people will be safe as long as they don’t go off the beaten track. “FIFA, the South African government, the South African police, international security, they can only control so much if guys get themselves drunk and wander down the street with 1,000-rand bills ($132) hanging out of their pockets.”
Drake already has made four trips to South Africa in the past year to prepare and is scheduled to go back in February and March.
“It doesn’t feel nearly as foreign as it used to,” he said. “And the flight doesn’t seem as
long. I know that sounds bizarre.”
Soccer is one of the few sports whose ratings haven’t declined.
ABC’s 12 telecasts four years ago averaged 3.5 million households, according to Nielsen Media Research, up from 1.7 million for ESPN’s 21 games and 919,000 million for ESPN2’s 31 matches. In addition, Spanish-language coverage averaged 1.5 million for 56 games on Univision and 122,000 for four on Telefutura.
When ABC and ESPN broadcast the entire tournament for the first time in 1994 — it was in the United States that year — the 52 games were viewed by an average of 1.95 million households.
That was up from an average of 685,000 homes for the 25 games televised by Turner
Broadcasting’s TNT network in 1990, when the U.S. made its first World Cup appearance in 40 years.
In an effort to widen soccer interest, ABC and ESPN televised the European Championship for the first time two years ago, and Spain’s victory over Germany in the final was seen by 3.76 million viewers on ABC. Skipper said ABC/ESPN intends to bid aggressively for rights for the 2012 Euros, which likely will be put up for bid in about three months.
And this time it has jettisoned Dave O’Brien, criticized for his lack of soccer knowledge, and added Martin Tyler of Britain’s Sky Sports along with a pair of retired European stars, Ruud Gullit and Steve McManaman.
For all the enthusiasm, Skipper keeps soccer in perspective. Speaking on Monday afternoon, he cited ESPN’s broadcast of Spain’s La Liga the previous day.
“It’s great counterprogramming for us to the NFL,” he said. “We didn’t quite beat it
yesterday. I think we did a 0.2 and they did a 33.”