Skipper: ESPN Setting 'High Bar' with World Cup

Programmer Remains Committed To Sport Beyond Brazil
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New York -- While he’s certainly rooting for the U.S. men’s national team to emerge from Group G as a fan and from business perspectives, ESPN president John Skipper is confident that the programmer’s all-inclusive, all-platform coverage of World Cup 2014 will prove very attractive to soccer fans, even if Sam’s Army fails to advance.

“This event is not going to tail off if the U.S. loses in the group stage or in the first knockout round,” said Skipper on Friday at ESPN’s World Cup presentation here at the Paley Center.  “We don’t sit around with clenched fists going ‘Oh my God, if the U.S. doesn’t win, we have a problem.’ ”

Given futbol’s growth in this nation, Skipper’s likely right. But it would help the tourney’s early momentum if the U.S. could emerge from the so-called Group of Death with Ghana, Portugal and Germany.

Either way, Skipper and company are giving the 2014 tourney a sendoff – Fox has the English-language rights to the World Cup and other FIFA events from 2015-22 -- with the largest commitment in company history to a single sporting event.

"Our commitment to soccer remains very sincere, very high and we want to leave behind after this event a very high bar," Skipper said. Fox Sports execs have been invited to Brazil to see ESPN's World Cup production, as Skipper and ESPN want to ensure "a proper handoff" to the incoming rights-holder.

The conclusion of World Cup 2014 doesn’t signal ESPN’s soccer farewell. Since January, ESPN and Fox have been expected to announce a new rights deals with Major League Soccer. Skipper on Friday noted that ESPN is "on the precipice of getting a deal done,” before joking "it's the longest I've ever been on a precipice."

ESPN is also in the game with the lead-up qualifiers (in conjunction with Fox) to the 2016 Euro Championships, and its coverage of The Continent’s national championship tourney. It also has some access to World Cup qualifiers – again as part of a sublicensing pact with Fox – ahead of the 2018 tournament in Russia.

He also mentioned that rights to England’s Barclays Premier League and Spain’s La Liga, which run on three-year cycles relative to U.S. television, will soon come up for bids.

“By all accounts, soccer is an ascendant sport,” he said. “We have to be there.”

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