With 2014 World Cup, ESPN Aims for ‘Most Comprehensive’ Coverage of Soccer Ever
Last week, with the kickoff of the 2014 FIFA World Cup just over a month away, ESPN unveiled its massive coverage plans for the month-long tournament during a media event in New York City. In addition to presenting all 64 matches live on a combination of ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, ABC, and the WatchESPN and WATCH ABC apps, the Disney-owned property will utilize its wealth of resources — including SportsCenter and other studio programing, ESPN Radio, ESPN Films, ABC News and its multitude of online and streaming offerings — to create a true Lernaean Hydra of World Cup programming.
“We hold the World Cup in the highest regard [since] it’s a time when the entire world comes together and celebrates,” ESPN President John Skipper said at the event. “In the U.S., my sense was that we didn’t fully participate in that [previously]. In 2010, we put our resources behind making sure that the U.S. was there in full glory, and, in 2014, in the place where soccer is most revered, Brazil, we want to build upon that. I think you will see the most comprehensive broadcast coverage of a soccer event anywhere in the history of the sport.”
Surrounding the Cup: Studio and Original Programming
In addition to live game coverage, ESPN will deliver more than 90 hours of original English-language programming (and nearly 300 total hours overall), including World Cup Tonight; ESPN FC; editions of SportsCenter; pregame, halftime, and postgame shows; and ESPN Deportes’ game-around-the-game programs originating from the company’s production headquarters throughout the month at Clube dos Marimbás on the tip of Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. ABC News will also broadcast from ESPN’s Clube dos Marimbás facility, providing live reports, interviews, and features.
“I know for certain that we have never done a studio at any venue in my history at ESPN that comes close to this,” said ESPN SVP/Executive Producer Jed Drake.
In addition to a traditional studio desk, the facility features a more casual set for panel discussions that will serve as the nightcap to the 90-minute World Cup Tonight show each night.”
“This portion of the set emanated from 2010, where we only did a 30[-minute] show at the end of the night and the best conversation happened every night back at the hotel in the lounge area,” said Drake. “[On-air talent] would walk in, and a conversation ensued normally and organically, and it was fabulous. So we have expanded that show to 90 minutes. Towards the end of World Cup Tonight, at some point, the producers will say, ‘We’re moving over to the other set; take off the ties, and let’s go. It’s an ensemble cast, so it could be 20 different people on three nights.”
Other programming will include World Cup-branded ESPN Films’ 30 for 30: Soccer Stories series (including the six-part Inside: U.S. Soccer’s March to Brazil training-camp series produced by Jonathan Hock and Roger Bennett), E:60 shows, and other long-form features.
Many Nations, Many Platforms, One ESPN
First and foremost, the network has put a greater emphasis than ever before on delivering a multiplatform World Cup experience to fans, as well as fully utilizing its wealth of resources in Latin America, where it boasts significant businesses in not only Brazil but also Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico.
“[The World Cup] provides us a unique opportunity because of our resources in Latin America. Our goal here is not to just bring the U.S. in but to be inclusive of Latin America,” said Skipper. “[Our Latin American resources] will give us a deeper level of understanding of the people and culture and politics and what the game means in the region. I hope it will feel seamless and will not feel like ‘Now we are going to bring in our resources from ESPN Mexico.’ We are going to ESPN — whether it’s Germany, Mexico, Brazil, or Argentina — in presenting the world’s game.”
As for the online and streaming offerings, the WatchESPN app and WatchESPN.com, ESPN3, and the ESPN FC global Website will allow fans to watch live matches and consume ancillary World Cup video and content like never before.
“We feel like we have put more resources against this from a digital perspective than we have ever put against any single event,” said Russell Wolff. EVP/managing director, ESPN International. “We feel like the combination of the in-depth coverage, the new consumer experience, as well as the video we are going to launch on that site around the World Cup is going to be an amazing experience.”
WatchESPN (now available in 92 million households through affiliated MVPDs) will allow U.S. fans to stream every game on computers, mobile devices, and tablets; ABC telecasts will also be accessible via WATCH ABC in selected markets.
In addition, the ESPN3 Surround companion experience will be available for all 64 telecasts and feature alternative camera feeds, languages (including Portuguese and Korean), and more. The streaming service will deliver two alternate camera feeds to every telecast including high-and-wide tactical cams, as well as real-time highlight reels that will update as big moments happen during every live match. In the weeks leading up to the FIFA World Cup, ESPN3 Surround will also deliver tactical-cam and fan-cam feeds to three U.S. Men’s National Team international friendlies (USA vs. Azerbaijan on May 27, USA vs. Turkey on June 1, and USA vs. Nigeria on June 7).
In addition, ESPN FC will launch a free app (for iOS and Android smartphones) along with a revamped global Website later this month with specific World Cup-oriented features. The new app (available in both English and Spanish) is built with the same user experience as the SportsCenter app and features a dedicated 2014 FIFA World Cup section that will be the default launch page beginning later this month. In the U.S., the app will debut in-progress clips for the World Cup, whereby goal highlights will be marked on a timeline for each match in real time. Additionally, all fans worldwide will have access to ESPN FC studio coverage and commentary video.
A Viewer-Friendly Time Zone
Although ESPN is confident that all this content and multiplatform distribution will drive viewership to record heights, the most valuable weapon in its arsenal may be Brazil’s viewer-friendly time zones — all within an hour of ET. The 2010 Cup from South Africa delivered solid ratings and represented a coming-out party of sorts for the World Cup in America; near-primetime telecasts should only drive those numbers higher.
“The previous world cups have been a little bit challenging, but, for this one, we are looking at afternoon and early-evening matches,” said Scott Guglielmino, SVP, programming. “This is about serving the fan and creating an immersive experience throughout that 30-day story. From a TV perspective, we are set with all matches live on our networks. From a mobility perspective, on WatchESPN and ESPN3, our audience is going to be able to follow those matches live no matter where they are. For us, it expands primetime; that is how we think about it.”