Archive for the ‘TSG in Bristol’ Category

Time To Get A New Pair Of Glasses?

Does it get any better than Chuauhtemoc Blanco in 3-D?

Though it was only a matter of time, ESPN formally announced the formation of ESPN 3D yesterday. The channel will begin operation with the first game of the World Cup, South Africa versus Mexico. And yes, 3D glasses will be required for viewing though they’ll be different than the iconic red and blue cardboard ones from the 20th century.

Having just seen Avatar in 3-D this past Saturday, my first experience with the latest 3-D technology, I would say I am intrigued by the thought of soccer in 3-D. It will certainly take some getting used to, but adding depth to the playing field can only improve the viewing experience, right?

ESPN plans on showing “up to” 25 World Cup games on ESPN 3D which will be available in the comfort of your own home assuming you plan on shelling out the bucks for the channel, purchase glasses and have a 3-D-ready television. ESPN’s last (and only?) public foray into 3-D was showing the USC-Ohio State in a few theaters and on the USC campus. It would be great if ESPN replicated this model and also offered World Cup games in theaters, if for nothing else than to expose to potential viewers to the “magic” of 3-D.

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Spanning The World With The Worldwide Leader

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.)

On MLS
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.

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The TSG in Bristol series:

Part I – Soccer, ESPN & The World Cup

Part II – A World Cup for All Viewers

A World Cup For All Viewers

This is Part II in a series of pieces resulting from TSG’s trip to ESPN headquarters for Media Day and the World Cup draw.

How does ESPN plan to straddle the wide gap between knowledgeable soccer fans and casual sports viewers in their coverage of the World Cup?

ESPN’s answer…divide-and-conquer according to the ESPN marketing team. Viewers fall into two broad categories, “core soccer viewers” and “the big event viewers.”

Will ESPN succeed in being all things to all fans? (Source: ESPN)

“Core soccer viewers,” i.e. those who will watch a Slovakia-Paraguay match, will be the priority during games. Broadcasts will be “pure,” focusing on the play on the pitch. ESPN will use the clean feed from FIFA and keep the screen devoid of advertisements and potentially the Bottom Line ticker. As one of ESPN’s marketing guys told me, the World Cup games are not the time to “experiment.”

Likewise, in-game commentary will be directed at viewers with a high level of understanding of the game. Announcers, including the recently hired Martin Tyler, will not “Americanize” the call nor will the commentary be dumbed-down, so to speak, for more casual fans. In addition, ESPN believes it has hired the best commentators (not the best American commentators), by retaining the likes of Ruud Gullit, Frank LeBouef, Steve McManaman, Efon Ekoku, Shaka Hislop and Alexi Lalas among others.

For the “Big Event Viewers,” i.e. those who don’t watch soccer regularly, but tune-in for the pageantry and drama, ESPN will attempt to make the World Cup on par with the Olympics. The spectacle of the World Cup will be conveyed through the stories surrounding the game; a very American style of sports reporting.

Great musician, great story...just not during the matches.

ESPN believes that South Africa is a huge part of the World Cup story and will tell its stories through “Voices of South Africa” as well as a ten-part series following Sal Masekela as he attempts to understand the upbringing of his jazz legend father, Hugh. This is likely an attempt to bring non-soccer fans in the right demographic (male 18-45) into the fold in the hopes of getting them hooked for “the event.” ESPN will also explore each of the 32 teams in-depth and is attempting to tell the individual stories of the 50 or so players who scored a goal in the World Cup finals.

From what we’ve been told, the storytelling and education of burgeoning American soccer fans will not take place during the games. It will be relegated to the studio shows and screen sidebars. As one ESPN executive remarked, “we won’t be explaining the offsides rule” to viewers. For educational purposes they will be doing screen splits similar to the morning of the World Cup draw during the Mike & Mike show when ESPN2 ran capsules of all 32 teams on the left side of the screen.

With 12 hours a day coverage for a month ESPN has to position the World Cup in a way that will draw the biggest audience which in the US will sway more towards the “big event viewers.” From prior World Cups, however, Bristol has learned that not serving the viewer tuning in for the soccer is a mistake and will attempt not to make that one in South Africa.

No doubt about it, ESPN has a difficult job in-front of them bringing the World Cup to life for the broad American audience. Success lies in their ability to effectively blur the lines between spectacle, story and sport in a manner that appeals to a mass audience while not coming across as phony or cartoonish to the knowledgeable soccer fan. In the next seven months, we’ll find out if ESPN will be authentic to the vision it has for itself.

Part I – Soccer, ESPN & The World Cup

Part III – Spanning the World with the Worldwide Leader

Soccer, The World Cup & ESPN

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.

ESPN will attempt to bring the World Cup to the world in all its glory.

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

The World(wide) Cup Draw

Yesterday was a great day. The World Cup draw provided the USMNT with a good opportunity to advance out of the group stage and TSG was covering it worldwide.

A Blood Mary-infused Shaun did some tremendous real-time writing on the festivities from San Francisco, Matthew was partying like it was 1982 with the Kiwis and I took it all in from ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT.

Big Board

The big board in Bristol was hastily rearranged after the draw.

As my brain is just starting to recover from an overload of information and a severe case of not-enough-sleep, I am going to take a day or two to digest the draw and what I learned before burning up the keyboard with “deep thoughts.” However, I will leave you with some “shallow thoughts” from the day; some of which TSG will explore in greater depth soon.

  1. Multiple former players  from around the world (McManaman, Lalas, Harkes, Hislop) echoed the sentiment that no World Cup game is “easy.”
  2. In relation to the US group, I heard that Algeria will be a tough opponent for the US and that the US should have no problem with them. I also heard that Slovenia shouldn’t be taken lightly as they took down Russia and that Slovenia is the worst team in the World Cup. So there, you should be as confused as I am now, so just revert to #1 above for clarity.
  3. I hope someone got a picture of John Harkes when I asked him about Clint Dempsey’s performance with the USMNT.
  4. Our next TSG campaign will be to get McManaman and Lalas to commit to a cage match if the US and England should draw on June 12th, assuming they don’t throw down before that.
  5. Hey, Mrs. Shin Guardian…I think I need a new chair for Christmas:

    This would look great in my office.

  6. All games of the World Cup brought to you by ESPN will be broadcast from South Africa, be available on ESPN360.com and be available ad free. In addition, ESPN is “leaning towards” removing the bottom line ticker as well.
  7. For being a broadcasting company that beam sports worldwide it was just a little amusing when ESPN experienced technical difficulties attempting to play a (simple) DVD for the assembled media.
  8. It sure would have been nice if it looked like anyone cared about the draw when ESPN showed a live shot of Times Square.
  9. A big “thank you” to ESPN for a great day, but TSG won’t become a shill for the WWL just because they gave us vuvuzelas.
  10. Kartik Krishnaiyer of MLSTalk and EPLTalk is a cool and knowledgeable dude.

By the way, does anyone know if Shaun got home okay?

Mr. Shin Guardian Goes to Bristol

Watch out, Johnny Boy Harkes: Here we come.

That’s right TSG; we’re taking our show on the road!

And we need your help.

Power to the People!

The Shin Guardian is attending Media Day for the World Cup, December 4th at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut.

The Shin Guardian 007 is on the move....

Making the journey westward will be my brother Mark as yours truly will be on a brief sabbatical in New Zealand as I mentioned the other day. (Actually I’m in the plane right now but magically posting this through the power of the world wide webosphere.)

For Mark’s little sojourn, we need your help. Wait, that’s incorrect.

We want to travel with your questions. The questions of our readers. The comments of our readers.

Sitting around Mark in the studio as the fateful draw for the USMNT–or some might call it the Bafana Bafana lottery….please let the US be a 2-seed with the Bafana, please the let the US be a 2-seed with the Bafana…..no whammy, no whammy….stop–will be none other than ESPN analysts Alexi Lalas, John Harkes and one Mr. Tommy Smyth.

We are TSG. We represent you, the fans of the USMNT, the fans of American soccer. We take that responsibility seriously.

So we will play gopher and scribe here.

Send us your comments and questions to take with us: either for a specific commentator, on ESPN coverage, or on World Cup 2010.

As we’ve come to expect from the community here, be heady and well-written in your commentary, but don’t make it personal. Also try to be curt, as we are going to want to pepper folks with as many questions as possible.

While TSG can’t promise anything in return; we promise we’ll try to get your questions and comments heard and commentary returned.

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