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ESPN Bolsters On-Air Roster for World Cup

12/05/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

ESPN has fortified its on-air talent roster for its extensive coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup from South Africa.

The programmer announced that five former World Cup players and the current manager of Wigan Athletic from the Barclays English Premier League will serve as game and studio analysts for its presentation of the world’s largest sporting event from June 11 through July 11.

Former Dutch national team star Ruud Gullit, ex-English international Steve McManaman and Efan Ekoku, who played for Nigeria and in the Premiership, are on board. The latter two currently serve as soccer commentators in the U.K.

From the American side of the pitch, former national team players Alexi Lalas and John Harkes, who captained Sam’s Army, will work the big event. Lalas, who played for the U.S. in the World Cup in 1994 and 1998 and served as the general manager of the Los Angeles Galaxy when it acquired David Beckham, has served as a soccer studio analyst with ESPN since January, while Harkes joined the sports programmer in March 2007 as lead analyst for its coverage of Major League Soccer and U.S. men’s national team matches. He also covered the 2006 World Cup from Germany.

The announcement of the hiring of Wigan manager Roberto Martinez — a veteran of Spain’s soccer circuit, including top-level La Liga, before he moved to England and played more than 200 matches for Wigan — was made during ESPN senior vice president and executive production, event production Jedd Drake’s presentation at media day here for the 2010 World Cup draw.

As part of the proceedings, ESPN on Friday also unveiled the first iterations of its 2010 World Cup marketing campaign, which builds on the “One Game Changes Everything” theme it kicked off with the 2006 competition.

Senior director of sports marketing Seth Ader said the executions take aim at two groups: core soccer viewers and those who gravitate toward big events. Creative, which will run across a number of platforms, will play to those groups.

The first, aimed at fanatical footballers and featuring Martin Tyler, ESPN’s lead play-by-play man for the 2010 tourney, ran during the draw show today. The promos, like the 2006 World Cup, will again feature music from U2. They are expected to begin appearing on air in March.

John Skipper, executive vice president of content at ESPN, said during a questions-and-answers session with reporters that the programmer was in good position with advertising for the 2010 World Cup. Skipper said the tournament thus far has attracted four firm sponsors. “We’ll end up with eight, accounting for 75% of the inventory,” he said.

ESPN’s coverage excludes commercials running during the sport’s non-stop match action, limiting spots to pregame, postgame and halftime positions, as well as in ancillary programming.

Skipper noted ESPN is offering ratings estimates for World Cup 2010 as part of its packages, adding that the remainder of the inventory will be accounted for by marketers beyond its core group of sponsors and partners.

“We’ll end up sold out,” he said.

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