This is Part III in a series of pieces resulting from TSG’s trip to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT for Media Day and the World Cup draw.
Outside of the actual World Cup draw, the most interesting 30 minutes of TSG’s day in Bristol was a small group interview with ESPN’s Executive Vice President of Content, Mr. John Skipper. In a wide-ranging discussion, TSG took the opportunity to ask about the topics most important to our readers.
Vuvuzelas for all! Skipper practices for the World Cup.
The topic of greatest interest to the TSG community was ESPN’s “vision for soccer.” This was covered in the first piece of our “TSG in Bristol” series (Soccer, the World Cup & ESPN), but I’ll add here that ESPN attempts to secure the rights for most soccer properties and believes that soccer is “not a marginal sport” in the U.S.
On the World Cup Draw…
Skipper noted that ESPN didn’t even carry the World Cup draw in 2006 and despite what some may think, ESPN wasn’t crunching numbers to estimate ratings immediately after the 2010 draw. USA – England will be a great game for them and it will be broadcast on ABC.
On a Weekly Soccer Show…
ESPN is “looking at” some kind of show, but they “don’t have anything done.” Two different concepts are being considered; a weekly English Premier League show and “world soccer round-up.” One of the obstacles to a global show would be assembling the highlight rights to the different leagues through purchase and trade including EPL, La Liga and Serie A. (Aside: I was hoping Skipper saw my picture at the Sportscenter anchor’s desk and would call with a job offer…alas, nothing yet.)
Skipper, like most everyone else, realizes the soccer has to get better for the game to thrive. Getting better players would lead to better stories, more people going to games and better ratings for ESPN. Asked about the impact of losing David Beckham and Cuauhtémoc Blanco for the start of the 2010 campaign, Skipper focused on the loss of Blanco as a “big problem” due to its impact on the Mexican audience. In 2010, expect ESPN to feature less Fire games, continue to focus on the big market teams and showcase the new Philadelphia franchise.
Perhaps the funniest comment of the day came when a fellow member of the media asked how a strike would impact the ratings, deadpanned Skipper, “Ratings would be bad if they don’t play.”
On the European Leagues on ESPN…
The EPL has done very well this season, especially when the match includes at least one of the Big 4. La Liga ratings have been “less that he would have hoped for,” but Skipper admitted that they hadn’t done much promotion of the Spanish league after securing its rights. Serie A and Bundesliga are pulling in modest numbers on ESPN360.
On the Quantification of Soccer by ESPN…
Given the piece TSG wrote about the Soccer Power Index (SPI), TSG asked the exec if ESPN was focused on quantifying the sport as a way to build the American audience. Surprisingly, the answer was that quantification is not an intentional tactic employed to attract the American audience, though more of it would be interesting.
Relative to the SPI, Skipper mentioned that it happened “more serendipitously than strategically” after some conversations with stats guru Nate Silver. In fact, Skipper went on to say that, “Sometimes it probably feels like outside these walls everything we do is strategic and we’ve thought it through” to which TSG informed that was indeed how things are perceived. Nice to hear that is not always the case.
On Viewer Trends & ESPN360…
To ESPN, two current trends remain the key future trends. Viewers / fans want 1) sports to be shown live and 2) sports “whenever and where ever”, i.e. the idea of “best available screen” — computer, mobile, television. ESPN360 and mobile content remain a priority for ESPN and Skipper believes that “we can cover the universe with 360.” Content is great, but 360 is going to have to be carried on more ISPs first.
On the Vuvuzela (just because we requested him to pose for the picture)…
Skipper pointed out the Confederations Cup crowd was mostly South Africa, so he expects the horn blowing to be somewhat toned down with a more international audience attending games at this summer’s World Cup.
The TSG in Bristol series:
Part I – Soccer, ESPN & The World Cup
Part II – A World Cup for All Viewers