ESPN2 Kicks Off 'Challenging' Women's World Cup Slate

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Defending Women’s World Cup champion Germany announced its arrival at the 2007 quadrennial event in striking fashion, topping Argentina 11-0 in the opening game of the FIFA tournament from China earlier today.

For those who missed the match live from Shanghai’s Hongkou Football Stadium this morning at 7:55 a.m. (ET), they can catch up or relive the drubbing today on ESPN Classic at 5 p.m. as part of ESPN networks’ extensive coverage of the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

ESPN and ESPN2 and broadband service ESPN360, which is now available in 17 million homes, will air all of the 32 matches of the 16-team tourney live and without commercial interruption -- spots run in pregame, postgame and halftime segments. Additionally, ESPN2 and ESPN Classic will present a number of matches, including all of team USA’s games, and the semifinals and championship contest. Classic will present its replays at 5 p.m. weekdays and noon on weekends to bridge the time zone to the Pacific Rim.

As for the FIFA-top-ranked United States team, led by Kristine Lilly and Abby Wambach, the side opens play in Group B, considered by soccer watchers to be the “group of death,” versus Korea DPR Sept. 11 at 4:55 a.m. on ESPN2. The U.S. then squares off against Sweden three days later at that time on ESPN, before completing group play against Nigeria on ESPN at 7:55 a.m. Sept. 18.

The blanket, multiplatform coverage is part of The Walt Disney Co.-owned company’s commitment to soccer and attempt to draw attention for an event that not only originates in morning and overnight hours in the U.S., but is going up against the start of the football season and Major League Baseball entering its final weeks of the playoff push.

“It’s a challenge at this time of day and year to gain attention for the Women’s World Cup,” acknowledged ESPN director of programming and acquisitions Doug Loughrey. “But we want to provide as many outlets as possible to our viewers.”

For its part, ESPN is supplementing the FIFA world feed, supplied by Host Broadcasting Service, with its own graphics package, as well as production team and studio shows. All told, ESPN will send more than 20 programming executives, directors, producers and talent to China over the course of the event that culminates on Sept. 30, while another 100 or more staffers will key the telecasts from the network’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn.

In addition to time differential logistics Loughery said the 2007 FIFA World Cup is quite a different experience from the last two World Cups. ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC aired 18 matches of the 2003 World Cup, which took place in the U.S. instead of China following the threat of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, while the 2006 Men’s World Cup played out in Germany.

“[The 2003 World Cup] was here in the States, but it really came at us at the last-minute. There wasn’t much time to think about the different preparations,” said Loughrey. “In Germany, the 2006 World Cup was in a more favorable time zone and our production teams knew their way around Europe a lot better.”

In addition to Shanghai, matches will be held in stadia in Wehan, Tianjin, Hangzhou and Chengdu.

Asked if the company’s wasn’t taking a chance of not having its top on-air tandem of J.P. Dellacamera and Julie Foudy calling the U.S.’s Group B matches from Bristol, and not making the trip to China until the quarterfinals.

“We will have production teams covering the U.S. women on the ground in Chin to follow storylines and file reports,” said Loughery. “Sure, it’s a bit of risk [not being there], but they are ranked first in the world and we expect the U.S. will get through the group stage.” 

This competition marks the fifth Women’s World Cup and the second in China, which hosted the inaugural tourney won by the U.S. Sweden was the host and winner in 1995, while Mia Hamm, Foudy, Lilly and Brandi Chastain took care of matters on American soil during 1999 in what remains this nation's highest-rated soccer telecast. As mentioned, Germany took the laurels four years ago in the U.S.

This tourney marks the fourth time ESPN has been on the scene. ESPN and ESPN2 aired six matches of the 1995 World Cup from Sweden. In 1999, ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC televised all 32 matches, and then the aforementioned 18 games in 2003.

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