ESPN executive Jed Drake calls this World Cup “the most complex production we’ve ever attempted at this company.”
Several elements of the coverage assuredly will please viewers. Among them:
• All matches will be televised live: 43 on ESPN (including the U.S. team’s three group stage matches); 11 on ESPN2 (10 group stage matches and a July 4 quarterfinal) and 10 on ABC (highlighted by the July 13 championship game).
Of the tournament’s 64 matches, 43 will be on weekday afternoons.
• All matches will be streamed live on the Internet (on ESPN3.com) and available on smartphones and tablets through WatchESPN.com.
• ESPN will use experienced announcers with a long history in the sport, unlike in 2006 (when it deployed former Marlins announcer Dave O’Brien as its lead voice) and unlike what Fox is now doing with NFL and basketball announcer Gus Johnson, who has become that network’s lead voice for soccer.
O’Brien and Johnson drew considerable criticism from long-time soccer fans.
So it’s no surprise that popular British announcer Ian Darke will return for his second World Cup with ESPN.
Former U.S. national team player Taylor Twellman will join him on the U.S. matches, though Darke is scheduled to work with other analysts, too.
“In ’06, our sense was that we were going to present this to an American audience with Americans,” ESPN president John Skipper said at a news conference in April. “We decided in ’10 just to do the best job we could, hire the most experienced talent we could. We found a real gem, in Ian Darke, and a little magic struck when Landon Donovan scored the goal [against Algeria], and there was Ian.
“So for him to become the signature voice just made sense for us. I don’t think we started with the idea that we had to have a British voice — although it does sound great on soccer, right? The Brazilians play the best, but I think the Brits call the game the best, without a doubt. We were gratified that fans [and] media — instead of getting criticism, we got plaudits. Plus, they just did a great job. They do understand how to hang back from the game, and Ian understands the drama.”
• ESPN will air more ancillary programming than ever before, with the World Cup Tonight studio show expanded from 30 minutes to 90.
Drake said during the 2010 World Cup, “the best conversation happened every night back at the Hyatt hotel when we had the eighth and ninth [floors’] lounge area. Everybody would walk in: Martin [ Tyler], Ian [Darke], Macca [ Steve McMannaman], Ruud [ Gullit], whomever. This conversation ensued, just normally and organically, and it was fabulous.”
Drake decided that conversation should be televised.
“What will happen towards the end of World Cup Tonight is that at some point the producers — myself included — will just throw the flag, and we’re going to say, ‘We’re moving over to the set. Take off the ties, let’s go,” Drake said.
• Many of ESPN’s 11 analysts will rotate between games and the studio. That includes Twellman, former U.S. players Alexi Lalas and Casey Keller, former Nigerian player Efan Ekoku, Everton manager Roberto Martinez, former Venezuelan players Alejandro Moreno and Gilberto Silvas, former English players McManaman and Stewart Robson, former German player Michael Ballack, and Dutch great Ruud van Nistelrooy.
• Two ESPN studio hosts — Bob Ley and Mike Tirico — will be recognizable to viewers. The third, British broadcaster Lynsey Hipgrave, making her ESPN debut, probably will not be.
Hipgrave, who has worked at London-based BT Sports, “is a proven soccer host — smart, engaging and dynamic,” Drake said.
• ESPN’s studio set will be based at a members-only boating club on the southern tip of Rio de Janeiro’s famed Copacabana Beach.
• Besides Darke, ESPN’s other play-by-play voices also have international experience: Jon Champion, Adrian Healey, Daniel Mann, Fernando Palomo and Derek Rae.
Univision and Univision Deportes Network will simulcast 56 matches live in Spanish, including the semifinals and championship.
Eight matches from group stage play will air, in Spanish, on UniMas and Galavision.
• Univision Deportes Network, which is carried by the top 10 U.S. distributors except Comcast, also will air rebroadcasts of matches and highlight shows.
• All games will be streamed on Univision’s website and apps. They will be free, but authentication is required for the quarterfinals and any matches beyond that.
• Univision sports president Juan Carlos Rodriguez told The Philadelphia Inquirer that his network will allocate “the same amount of resources” to the U.S. national team as it does to Mexico.
“We met with U.S. Soccer, and we came to an agreement that it was going to happen,” he said. “They know we are rights-holders for them. They treat us like real partners, and we are going to do a very good job covering them.
“We live in the States [and] we have to be responsible. This is not Mexican television. We are in the U.S., and we want to make television for Americans, regardless of [your] origin.”
• Univision’s talent lineup includes host Fernando Fiore, play-by-play announcers Pablo Ramírez and Jorge Pérez-Navarro and analyst Jesús “El Profe” Bracamontes.
Univision also hired former U.S. national team defender Marcelo Balboa, former Honduras national forward Carlos Pavón and former Italian national team midfielder Mauro Camoranesi.
• This will be the final World Cup production for ESPN and Univision for at least the next decade. Fox won the English U.S. rights for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. Univision, which has aired every World Cup game since 1970, lost out to Telemundo in bidding for U.S. Spanish rights for 2018 and 2022.