The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

ESPN president: Company still committed to soccer despite losing US World Cup rights

  • Print

NEW YORK, N.Y. - ESPN executives gushed about the World Cup on Friday with no hint they are a lame-duck broadcaster when it comes to the tournament.

The tournament in Brazil, which opens June 12, is the sixth straight World Cup that ESPN will televise in the U.S. — and the last for at least a dozen years. Fox won the rights to the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

In the meantime, ESPN still is committed to soccer, said its president, John Skipper.

"We have to be there," he said.

That's vital with the way the sport's popularity is growing with American viewers. The average rating for World Cup games on ESPN networks increased 31 per cent between the 2006 and 2010 tournaments.

The numbers for international matches have kept going up ever since, and Skipper is particularly mindful of surveys that show the high interest in soccer among younger viewers.

ESPN has the 2016 European Championship in France, and it's "on the precipice" of a new deal with Major League Soccer, Skipper said. ESPN and Fox share U.S. rights to European qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup.

But the big targets on the horizon are the English Premier League and Spain's La Liga. NBC is finishing the first season of a three-year deal with the Premier League, so the next round of negotiations will come around again soon.

ESPN has invited Fox executives to observe its production in Brazil for "a proper handoff," Skipper said.

ESPN is dedicating its vast resources to covering the tournament, with 290 hours of original programming planned — up from 250 four years ago. That's an easy decision even with its shortage of soccer content after the World Cup. And not just because of the way the audience has been swelling.

Unlike South Africa, Brazil presents no time zone problems, with games played in the afternoon and evening on the East Coast in the U.S. And the setting is alluring in a country so passionate about soccer.

"I think the numbers are going to be up fairly dramatically," Skipper said.

Even if the U.S. team fails to advance from the group stage, a very real possibility since the Americans face Ghana, Portugal and Germany. While viewership wasn't quite as robust after the U.S. was eliminated in 2010, the rating for the final on ABC was up 6 per cent from the previous World Cup — another sign of the sport's growth in the country.

"We don't sit around with clenched fists going, 'Oh my gosh, if the U.S. doesn't win we have a problem,'" Skipper said.

He also is optimistic that Mexico will advance, and ESPN has been treating "El Tri" as a sort of second national team considering the big audiences the squad draws in the U.S.

For the first time, ESPN will stream every game online, leading senior director of marketing Seth Ader to quip: "We fully expect workplace productivity to plummet."

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.