ESPN's Skipper holds key for soccer fans in America
Posted: Thursday June 8, 2006 8:04PM; Updated: Friday June 9, 2006 4:08PM
For the U.S. to advance past the group stage, keeper Kasey Keller will need to play big.
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John Skipper is that rare American who can equally negotiate the worlds of Craven Cottage and Ricky Craven. As ESPN's Executive Vice President, Content, Skipper is responsible for creating and managing programming for ESPN and ABC and its ever-growing additional platforms. Forget about Ronaldo playing in New York or an aging David Beckham scoring goals (and movie parts) in Los Angeles. If you are a soccer fan in America, Skipper is the most important man in the country.
At least this month.
The scope of ESPN's World Cup coverage is enormous: ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC Sports will televise all 64 FIFA World Cup matches live and in high definition. ESPN's broadband service -- ESPN360 -- will offer online simulcast of the matches (with the exception of the 12 games airing on ABC Sports). ESPN Classic will provide same-day rebroadcasts of games, and U2 is fronting a slick commercial campaign. Add to that a nightly studio show (World Cup Live), which will air on ESPN and ESPN2, generally between midnight and 2 a.m. Then there is the unwritten mandate that the countless properties under the ESPN banner (from ESPN News to Cold Pizza to ESPN Radio) will be chatting and pontificating about all things Ronaldinho. That should make for amusing radio and television moments, since there are a number of ESPN personalities (for starters, Colin Cowherd) who have long argued that soccer will never catch on in this country.
Said Skipper: "The biggest difference from the past? We're behind it and doing a lot more things."
Skipper will be in Germany throughout the tournament with his two sons. He is a devoted supporter of Tottenham, the plucky London-based English Premier League team whose star goaltender (Paul Robinson) is the No. 1 for England. The ESPN executive has tickets to 15 matches and is taking vacation days to travel in the land of weisswurst. "I've carved a disproportionate amount of time for the world's greatest sporting event,"said Skipper.
Even fans of the FOX Soccer Channel and GolTV (count yours truly among them) would begrudgingly admit that ESPN's promotional might holds the best chance for soccer to move into the first tier of American sports fandom. (Check out FSC and GolTV this month for shows such as Ticket to Germany (FSC) and GolTV in Germany. XM Satellite Radio will also provide 24-hour coverage for 31 days on two channels.) Last November, FIFA announced a $425 million deal for World Cup television rights in the United States from 2007 to 2014. (ABC paid $100 million for the English-language rights; Univision paid $325 million for Spanish-language rights.) When it comes to World Cup coverage, ESPN is flooding the zone. They have 75 employees in Germany and 75 in Bristol. By last count, the keyboard-happy folks in ESPN's Department of Spin had sent nine World Cup press releases in the last 23 days. "We think that soccer in this country is going to become a big deal and a major sport -- and not just because of the World Cup," said Jed Drake, the senior vice president for remote production for ESPN and ABC.