Sunday, June 12, 2011

ESPN's Coverage of South Africa 2010 - Just a Beginning?

Earlier this week I received my review copy of Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN, so the first thing I did was jump to the index to find any sections that deal with soccer. Based on the directions that the index sent me in, and I should note the index seems a bit poor, the book only focuses on soccer in the context of the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa, which isn't a bad thing, but it seems to leave out the World Wide Leader's dabbling with the Beautiful Game during the bulk of its 31 years.

In the book, which is written as an oral history, ESPN's treatment of the 2010 World Cup finals is presented in a very positive light. The voices heard in this discussion primarily belong to Ian Darke, Landon Donovan, and John Skipper.

Although ESPN/ABC had broadcast the World Cup finals in the United States prior to 2010, those earlier ventures involved sub-licensing through Soccer United Marketing. The first time that ESPN/ABC, in conjunction with Univision, obtained the direct World Cup finals broadcast rights from FIFA was for the 2010 finals, rights that they almost lost to NBC because previous Vice-President of Content, Mark Shapiro, had little interest in soccer.

Thanks to Chuck Blazer, who either feared NBC treating the World Cup finals like it treats the Olympics or knew about an impending power change at ESPN, the FIFA deal with NBC was delayed, giving the new ESPN Vice-President of Content, John Skipper, a chance to meet with FIFA officials and steal the broadcast rights away from NBC. Skipper was a fan of soccer thanks to his earlier work with ESPN's Soccernet.

While soccer fans might have complaints about certain aspects of ESPN's coverage of the 2010 World Cup finals, the reality is that the network took the tournament seriously, being one of the first broadcast networks on the ground in South Africa to prepare for the finals, and making it possible for Americans to view every single match. Not surprisingly, there was positive focus on the Landon Donovan goal against Algeria the viral aspect of US fan reaction on YouTube.

The impression left on the reader is that ESPN has even bigger plans for future coverage of the World Cup finals.

After checking out the book's coverage of ESPN's relationship with the Beautiful Game, I started reading it from the beginning. So far it has been very entertaining, I'll give you my final verdict here when I'm finished.

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