World Cup 2014: Kicking Around ESPN's Coverage Plans with Jed Drake - Multichannel

World Cup 2014: Kicking Around ESPN's Coverage Plans with Jed Drake

Executive Producer Discusses Technological Set-Up, Draw, Expanded Recap Show, Content Play with Fusion
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ESPN plans to present 271 live hours of coverage from the 2014 FIFA World Cup from Brazil next June and July, including expanded recap shows, said Jed Drake, senior vice president and executive producer at ESPN.

That’s up slightly from its 2010 presentation from South Africa and does not include encore presentations from the worldwide leader, which will be televising its final World Cup under a $100 million, multiyear package highlighted by the 2010 and 2014 quadrennials, and the 2011 Women’s World Cup

All 64 matches will be presented live and in the high-definition format on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC, with WatchESPN offering simulcasts of the games airing on the cable channels. Broadband portal ESPN3, now available to more than 85 million homes, will present matches in multiple languages, other than English and Spanish.

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ESPN 's studio programming – World Cup Tonight, ESPN FC World Cup Encore, ESPN FC, editions of SportsCenter, as well as the pre-game, halftime and post-game shows – and ESPN Deportes’ game-around-the-game programs will originate from the company’s production headquarters throughout the month at Clube dos Marimbás on the southern tip of the famed Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro

“It’s the most beautiful venue that ESPN has ever worked from,” said Drake, who is currently in Rio, where he is coordinating the programmer's coverage of the World Cup Final Draw from Costa do Sauipe, which ESPN2 will air from its Bristol, Conn. headquarters at 11:30 p.m. (ET) on Friday, Dec. 6. It marks Drake's seventh excursion to Brazil, more than he had made to South Africa at this stage in preparation for the 2010 World Cup.

“One thing we learned from South Africa is that we want to be event further in front of this event,” he said, noting he’ll make five more trips before decamping after Memorial Day for the tournament that runs from June 12 through July 13.

A more complex technical set-up has been one of the reasons behind his South American journeys. Whereas in 2010 ESPN's World Cup operation was run entirely from the International Broadcast Center, adjacent to Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg, the programmer is taking a more far-flung approach with next year's tourney. ESPN's main production facility at Clube dos Marimbas is located more than an hour away from the International Broadcast Center, “two hours [with traffic] when the World Cup is here,” said Drake. Moreover, ESPN’s principal event editing facilities will remain Stateside, at three different locations in Connecticut. “We’ve had to do a lot more hard-wiring,” said Drake.

All told, ESPN will have some 300 people working on the 2014 World Cup, many of whom were also engaged with the South African production.  He said ESPN will once again aim to present the World Cup with fervid futbol fans in mind, with telecasts dedicated “to their level of understanding of the game. Others will come for the sheer spectacle of the event.”

One of the big changes in coverage plans by ESPN -- which captured some 40 industry awards, including three Emmys, the most ever for the company with a single event -- is an expanded World Cup Tonight recap show. Drake said that after South Africa, discussions delved into areas where ESPN could provide more coverage. “We said a 30-minute recap show didn’t do justice to an event like the World Cup.  So ad sales asked me how big the show should be. I said, ‘Ninety minutes.’ They said, ‘Sold.’ ”  (The expanded post-game presentation affords additional opportunities for sponsors, as the continuous flow of soccer doesn’t lend itself to in-game commercial breaks.)

Plans are also in motion to produce some World Cup content for Fusion, the English-language joint venture network aimed at Latinos that is owned by Disney ABC Television Group subsidiary of The Walt Disney Co. and Univision. “We had some recent discussions to see what we could come up with,” said Drake.

Asked about safety concerns in the wake of the Nov. 27 crane collapse that killed two at Sao Paulo's Itaqueraro Arena, scheduled to be the site of the tourney's opening match, Drake called the outcome "tragic. It raises concerns on so many levels, including the quality of construction. It's an event of enormous scope and a lot of people are worried about those responsibilities."

Although a number of the venues are behind schedule, Drake pointed to the experience in South Africa. "They were still working on the roads leading to Soccer City the day before the tournament started," he said. "You have to put some faith in it."

Drake believes the more favorable time differential – much of Brazil, which spans three time zones, is one hour ahead of the east coast of the U.S., meaning a number of matches will air in the late afternoon/evening, rather than South Africa's morning matchups – will lead to bigger ratings.

A run past the group stage by the U.S. also wouldn’t hurt with the Nielsens. Buoyed by 15.5 million viewers for Spain’s 1-0 win over The Netherlands in the final match and the 14.8 million who saw the  Americans' ouster by Ghana in the round of 16, the 2010 tourney ranks as the most-viewed World Cup ever on English-language TV in the States. The 64 matches on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC averaged a 2.1 U.S. household rating, 2.29 million households, and 3.26 million viewers.  The rating was up 31% from a 1.6 when the event was held in Germany during 2006, while household impressions grew 32% from 1.74 million and viewership soared 41% from 2.32 million.

Drake said ESPN has been working on different scenarios with the pots that will determine the eight, four-team groups. One scenario, with "Group of Death" overtones, had the U.S. paired with Brazil, Portugal and Russia, while another had the Americans flanked by Switzerland, Greece and Cameroon.

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Fans of Sam’s Army, including Drake, would certainly opt for the latter.

Regardless of how it plays out on Friday, Drake feels good about the American team: “By every major ranking, the U.S. is in the top 20. [U.S. Men's National Team head coach] Jurgen[ Klinsmann] has set the team up nicely.”

As was the case in 2010, ESPN plans to provide on-site, pre- and post-match coverage from the venues. Drake said ESPN will have talent either inside or outside the stadiums, with plenty of reporters on-site.

Calling it “the luck or unluck of the draw,” Drake hopes the U.S. won’t have to visit Arena Amazonia in Manaus, deep in the rainforest. Humidity concerns for the players aside, the location presents logistical difficulties. “It’s very, very dense terrain. We will literally have to float mobile units up the Amazon River,” he said.

He said there will be new presentations at play tied to the home country and its exalted position  -- Brazil has won five World Cups,  the most of any nation -- in the soccer universe.

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“With all due respect to the last hosts, the South Africans,” said Drake,” Brazil has a legitimate chance” to add a sixth trophy to its collection.  “That makes for different challenges and opportunities with our coverage.”

It may also delay Drake’s travel plans – he’s scheduled to depart on July 14, the day after the final.  “If Brazil wins, I don’t know when I’d be able to get home,” he said. “It would be a nice dilemma to have.”

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