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Reporters Notebook: Interview With ESPN VP For Content, John Skipper


In our continued quest to make the EPL Talk Network, a one stop shop for all your football analysis, I am going to depart from the typical type of commentary you normally find on this site from me to share with our readers my reporter’s notebook from a private briefing with ESPN’s leading soccer programmer.

ESPN Vice President for Content, John Skipper, whose role in making world football coverage a priority for the ESPN family of networks cannot be understated, spent about thirty minutes with selected  reporters on Friday after the ESPN coverage of the World Cup Draw. I was fortunate to be among the reporters included in this briefing.

While it wasn’t quite a one on one interview, I had the opportunity to ask every question I wanted.

Here was my list of questions coming into the briefing:

–       Is ESPN pleased with the performance of the EPL package they have sub licensed from FSC?

–       Will ESPN be able to secure a sub license agreement again with FSC for the next four years?

–       ESPN 360’s acquisition of rights to several European leagues: how has this helped the product?

–       Will ESPN 360 become a larger part of the ESPN empire going forward?

–       How important was it to get ESPN 360 into Comcast homes?

–       How did the Classico perform so well on ESPN Deportes?

–       Deportes has announced it will cover World Cup matches in Portuguese but how does this reconcile with Spanish language analysis shows about the World Cup that include such big names in Hispanic media as Mario Kempes and Jorge Ramos? How can studio shows from Soccer City be in Spanish while the games themselves are in Portuguese?

–       Are NBC Universal/COMCAST interested in soccer? Will ESPN face competition from them going forward?

–       What national teams highlight your coverage in the emerging Southeast Asian/Indian Subcontinent market?

–       Will Martin Tyler, Efan Ekuko, and other seasoned British commentators be asked to Americanize their commentary for the casual sports fan?

Several questions were asked about MLS on ESPN. Admittedly, I was focused on other ESPN properties and didn’t ask any of the questions our MLS Talk readers may have found interesting.  Because I was busy focusing on the topics that I had prepared for in the briefing, I took incomplete notes of the MLS portion. At a later date, thanks to some of our friends in the blogging community, I may be able to transcribe the interview completely, as much of it was lost on my previously reliable voice recorder.

I regularly take notes during briefings to supplement the tape recording, so none of the issues I specifically was interested in were lost, but other subjects such as MLS and US National Team rights, I did not take proper notes on. I apologize to our readers of  MLS Talk, our sister site. One reporter present, Kyle McCarthy of the Boston Herald asked several good MLS-centric questions, which he probably has written about for his publication.

Thankfully, that very same voice recorder did a masterful job in some of the other briefings with ESPN talent, that were held later in the day, and those will be released in podcast form in the upcoming weeks.

Every single question I had prepared to ask of Skipper, was answered and interestingly enough, each question with the exception of the final one about commentary for the American audience was asked by me (that was asked by one of the founding partners of the excellent site, the Shin Guardian). With reporters covering the draw and ESPN from several different angles, the EPL Talk family of networks angle was unique.

Skipper’s answers were candid, something I did not expect from the person who has done more than anyone to make the sport a priority at ESPN.

  • Skipper said the EPL package is performing well for the network especially when big four sides are involved. ESPN is confident they “will get something done” about sublicensing going forward from FSC.
  • The leagues outside of La Liga have enjoyed modest numbers of ESPN 360. But part of the idea for the broadband network is to provide simultaneous content that appeals to niche viewers, and 360 is becoming a larger and larger part of the network. The Comcast deal was huge Skipper admitted and he seemed pleased I had asked the question.
  • Regarding Deportes, the numbers for the Classico were more about the game itself than ESPN’s promotion, and as far as the World Cup coverage, transition from one language to another will be “seamless.”
  • Comcast has a huge sports division now and it is assumed they are interested in football/soccer coverage. Under GE ownership NBC/Universal aggressively pursued soccer rights packages including the World Cup (which ESPN/ABC won) and the Mexican National Team (which NBC won). Comcast’s purchase of NBC Universal probably means that the giant company will be even more agressive with regards to this sport.
  • England and Spain along with Brazil appear to have the biggest followings in Southeast Asia. No surprise there.
  • Commentary during the matches will be specific to the matches. This time around for ESPN, the broadcast will not be Americanized and rules of sport will not be explained.

I’ll have some analysis of all of this news on the applicable network sites in the upcoming days.

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  1. eplnfl

    December 5, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    Good job here for your readers.

  2. mickey soccerfan

    December 5, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    get Paul Dempsey involved in the world cup coverage — he’s miles ahead of the rest

  3. sammy

    December 5, 2009 at 11:56 am

    Yes! Great job ESPN! No more idiot baseball announcers ruining the World Cup this time around! No more bad bad analogies. No more David Beckham mentions every 15 seconds.

  4. Ding

    December 5, 2009 at 11:20 am

    First try to make it, a one-stop shop, for using commas, correctly.

  5. RedMD

    December 5, 2009 at 10:54 am

    So, any idea what the complete roster of commentary teams will be for ESPN at this world cup? I find it interesting that Jon Champion is good enough to be the lead announcer for ESPN in the Premier League in the UK, but when it comes to the World Cup, will he not even be included (don’t get me wrong, I love Tyler, but, i mean, Champion is already employed by ESPN, what does that say?…unless of course he was already under World Cup contract with someone else)?

    • Panda

      December 5, 2009 at 1:24 pm

      I believe he does the World Cup already for ITV. I think it speaks more volumes that the UK hasn’t heard Tyler call a World Cup.

      I like Champion too and his build up to games are like poetry, but ESPN has a good enough core of announcers for the group stages. Tyler, Derek Rae, Adrian Healy, and JP. Steve McNamaman, Efan Ekoku, Ruud Gullit, Tommy and that muppet John Harkes sound like a great commentary team. I still wish they’d bring Gray back.

      • RedMD

        December 5, 2009 at 3:59 pm

        Yeah, I do like the way things have shaped up. I do find it interesting that it looks like Efan Ekoku is so far a studio analyst whereas Gullit will be Tyler’s color-man when throughout the season they play opposite roles. I too would have liked to have seen Andy Gray back, especially since Tyler’s on board.

    • Patrick Johnson

      December 5, 2009 at 5:23 pm

      Jon Champion is a free lance commentator. I believe Champion is under contract for the next two World Cups and the next two Euros for ITV. I could be wrong about that, but that is my understanding.

  6. DaveG

    December 5, 2009 at 9:15 am

    “Commentary during the matches will be specific to the matches. This time around for ESPN, the broadcast will not be Americanized and rules of sport will not be explained”

    Top Notch! About time!

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