American networks are sending big staff numbers to World Cup as US soccer becomes more of a draw

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American networks are making big commitments to covering the World Cup in South Africa. The Walt Disney Co. networks are sending 200 people from the USA and Europe to join 100 local hires -- slightly more than the 292 staffers the BBC plans to send. "SportsCenter" will be broadcast live from Johannesburg on a set shipped in, and 250 hours of original programming - that's more than 10 days of TV - are being produced.

"We've sort of pulled out all stops to make sure people pay attention this year, because we're convinced when they pay attention, they're going to fall in love with this," said John Skipper, ESPN's executive vice president of content and acknowledged soccer supporter.

"This is important to our company around the world. We have the rights in Brazil. We have the rights in much of Asia. This matters to us on our 'SportsCenters' around the world. This is a global effort for our company. Within the United States, the amount of shoulder programming, promotional commitment we have to this is beyond any event we've done in the past."

Following criticism that Dave O'Brien, its lead announcer in 2006, lacked a depth of soccer knowledge, ESPN hired Sky Sports' Martin Tyler, considered one of England's top commentators, as its lead announcer starting with the U.S.-Australia exhibition on June 5. He'll combine with Ian Darke, Adrian Healey and Derek Rae to give ESPN British play-by-play broadcasters for every match.

J.P. Dellacamera, the regular play-by-play man on U.S. national team telecasts, will be on ESPN Radio with Tommy Smyth. "We spent a great deal of time listening to announcers and discussing the various attributes that each had and ultimately these were the people that we felt were best-equipped to present this event to the United States regardless of whatever accent they might have," said Jed Drake, an ESPN senior vice president who is executive producer of its World Cup coverage.

ESPN also is bringing in a large number of former players to cover the matches, with Ruud Gullit, Efan Ekoku, John Harkes, Alexi Lalas, Steve McManaman, Robbie Mustoe and Shaun Bartlett providing analysis along with Wigan manager Roberto Martinez. Former players Kyle Martino and Shep Messing will be part of the radio teams, and ESPN is placing correspondents with the national teams of the U.S., England, Mexico, Australia and South Africa.

Former American woman's star Julie Foudy is among three general assignment reporters, and Sal Masekela, a son of South African jazz musician Hugh Masekela, will file culture and human interest stories.

Unlike most sporting events, the World Cup is on multiple networks in the USA. While ABC/ESPN acquired rights to the 2010 and 2014 tournaments for $100 million, Univision Communications purchased Spanish-language U.S. rights for the two World Cups for $325 million. For 2002 and 2006, ESPN repurchased rights from Soccer United Marketing, a Major League Soccer affiliate that had bought them from FIFA.

Like ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2, Univision will broadcast in high definition on its main network, TeleFutura and Galavision, a total of 900 hours of coverage in all. Univision will be televising on Univision.com and Univision Movil, and next-day replays will be available on Univision On Demand. In addition to its Hispanic audience, Univision expects to attract English-speaking viewers to its networks.

ESPN heads to South Africa finding that FIFA has loosened up. It used to be that ESPN was hugely dependent on the world feed, allowed only to add a single camera for World Cup games involving the U.S. national team. Now, Drake says ESPN is free to produce World Cup telecasts pretty much in the same manner it televises American sports leagues.

Ad sales have been strong, with FIFA partners Adidas, Anheuser-Busch, Hyundai and Sony buying time along with AT&T, Cisco, EA Sports, Heineken, M&M Mars and the U.S. Marines.

Anheuser-Busch and M&M Mars also bought time on Univision, joined by Allstate, Best Buy, Castrol, Coca-Cola, Comcast, Corona/Mondelo, Fujifilm, General Motors, Marriott, McDonalds, Miller, Nationwide, Nike, Paramount Pictures, State Farm, T-Mobile, Time Warner Cable, Unilever, Valvoline, Verizon, Volkswagen and Wal-Mart.