So much of the discussion regarding ESPN’s coverage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup has been centered around what a magnificent job the network has done, but the fear of what’s going to happen after ESPN hands over the rights to FOX Sports, which effectively happens after the World Cup coverage ends on Sunday night.
From 2015 through 2022, FOX will broadcast all of the World Cup tournaments, Women’s World Cup as well as the Confederations Cups.
But during a FIFA World Cup Final conference call this week for reporters, ESPN Executive Producer Jed Drake reminded me that ESPN is not out of the business of broadcasting major soccer events quite yet. ESPN will broadcast Euro 2016 to viewers in the United States. The tournament will feature the best national teams from across Europe as they compete in France during the summer of 2016 to determine who will become the European Championship winner.
ESPN will broadcast every game of the Euro 2016 tournament live from June 10 to July 10, 2016. If ESPN’s coverage of the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups is anything to go by, we can expect another professionally produced Euro 2016. Plus, it’ll be a good way to keep FOX Sports on their toes as well as beIN SPORTS, who will be televising Copa America 2016 in English and Spanish.
I asked Drake to comment on what he believes ESPN’s legacy will be with its World Cup coverage:
“I think the big thing for me, and I suspect for all of us, is that we decided that we were not going to allow our country to be less than enthusiastic on a national basis about this event, and we set out to make that change after 2006, and for all of you that saw what we did in 2010 in South Africa, we said that we had finally changed the culture in the United States and helped the general population understand what the rest of the world knew, which is that this event is the biggest sporting event on the planet, and that it means so much to so many people around the world, billions of them.
“We did that in 2010, and what we said we were going to do here is that we were going to continue that and recognize some of the inherent things that came to play for us in our favor, like the time zone and this growing interest in the U.S. team.
“With those opportunities we’ve shown what an immense event this can be, and our ratings have borne that out. But as to ESPN, I think we’re most pleased with the overall presentation being what we wanted it to be. It was an incredible challenge, and it was a very ambitious plan, but we’ve executed on that, and we will leave a legacy now on this event that I believe will be very difficult to go past for quite some time. We love this event.
“We wish FOX well, but we have in no small way recognized our opportunity is to do the very best we can on this event with the collateral effect being that we’re leaving the bar very high for FOX, and that was always part of our thinking. I think with two matches to go, I think we’ve achieved that, and that will be our legacy.
“Now, that said, I did say along the way that we intended to make 2010 look like the warmup act, and I think we’ve done that. But there is an encore now, and that encore is in 2016. It’s the European Championships. So we will come back after we take a pause and focus on that event, and we intend to ‑- said with a smile on my face after being here for 48 days or whatever the number is ‑- we will hit that one with as much enthusiasm and determination as possible. We’re not done just yet.”
ESPN World Cup Presenter Bob Ley shared his thoughts on the topic, too:
“We’ve turned this from a sporting event into a cultural event, and I think our network was uniquely positioned to do that because I think there are a lot of networks have viewers, but ours has fans, and I think we’re unique. We’ve been fortunate to have that special place, I think, in the conscience and in the hearts of sports fans, and I think we’ve been able to take that position and work from there to turn crowds at Soldier Field out to watch the national teams, numbers of them daily, they hit our smartphones and we open an email and say, my gosh.
“Strangely, we’re on the bubble here. We talked about this at the bar the other night, and there’s a significant portion of each one of us that would love to have been home for some of this, not just to see our families certainly, but to be part of what was happening back home because we only hear about it anecdotally. Strangely to those of us here, we’re missing one of the greatest parts of the tournament which was enjoying it with other Americans. But I’ve been at the network for 35 years, and I’ve never been prouder to be part of any project than I have been to be a part of all these World Cup productions.”
I’m sure that many of you will agree with me that ESPN have done an incredible job once again in raising the bar in regards to soccer coverage in the United States. Sure, there are areas of improvement needed, but overall, we can only imagine the amount of hard work and dedication it’s taken to make this World Cup coverage a success.
There will be so many vivid memories from ESPN’s coverage of this tournament — the set, which has to be one of the most beautiful ones I’ve ever seen on television, especially with the incredible view — as well as the groundbreaking Last Call show, the expert analysis from Roberto Martinez and Ruud van Nistelrooy, the on-screen tactics board that worked so well, the incredible 30 For 30 Soccer Series, and — of course — the games and incredible goals.
While World Cup 2014 will be over soon, ESPN will soon begin work on its plan for Euro 2016. I can’t wait for it!