This is Part I in a series of pieces resulting from TSG’s trip to ESPN headquarters for Media Day and the World Cup draw.
If one thing is clear following TSG’s visit to Bristol last Friday, it’s that ESPN is throwing a lot of resources at the World Cup. Whether ESPN is looking at the World Cup in the context of a greater soccer strategy is still up for debate.
Media Day started with a quartet of top ESPN executives walking through the “what” and “how” of the forthcoming South Africa ’10 coverage. Jed Drake, who oversees all remote production efforts across all ESPN-related networks, spoke of the importance of the event to ESPN.
This focus has led to Drake’s role being re-focused solely on the tournament as well as ESPN making the World Cup an “organizational priority;” the first time an event has ever received that distinction at the WWL. Oh yeah, there is also that ginormous countdown clock right in the middle of the ESPN campus.
Suffice it to say, the World Cup will be all over ESPN domestic and international networks as well as online and mobile properties. To me, the two most interesting things coming out of ESPN so far are 1) that each game will appear and be archived for 24 hours on ESPN360.com and 2) the current ESPN World Cup iPhone application is loaded with the history of prior tournaments.
From a personnel and exposure perspective, ESPN seems like they are locked-in on wall-to-wall coverage of every game, the game behind the game and the stories around the game with Drake adding that that ESPN is operating at a “far greater level of ambition” than Germany ’06.
Next to the podium was ESPN’s John Skipper who is responsible for the “creation, programming and production of ESPN content across all media platforms.” In other words, he’s kind of a “big deal,” as in #30 on BusinessWeek’s 2008 Top 100 most powerful people in sports. Of note, the Tottenham Hotspur supporter came across as both a straight-forward and likable guy in the morning session and a smaller group interview TSG was a part of later in the day.
Following some World Cup coverage specific questions from fellow media, TSG had the opportunity to query Mr. Skipper and lobbed in the #1 question from TSG readers.
TSG: “What is ESPN’s vision for soccer?”
Skipper: “We don’t have a vision.”
Now that wasn’t the end of Skipper’s answer, but it was a surprising beginning. Mr. Skipper then said that ESPN has a “goal, not a vision” with the goal to present the sport in an “appropriate and authoritative way.” ESPN’s coverage would be credible (to the knowledgeable soccer fan), but “in the American vernacular” that includes presenting the game and the stories (of players, teams and South Africa).
From Skipper’s answer and others throughout the day, it was clear that ESPN regards their involvement in soccer as producer of event coverage for viewers of all varieties with no overall designs or strategy to play a major role in growing the sport in America. This isn’t necessarily surprising when viewed from the Worldwide Leader’s perspective, but none-the-less somewhat disappointing for those who love the sport and realize the immense potential for ESPN to accelerate soccer’s rise in America.
Regardless of any master plan for soccer, ESPN’s commitment to the World Cup should provide a big boost to the world’s #1 game in the US.
Tomorrow, Part II: A World Cup For All Viewers