2014 World Cup Coverage by ESPN, 2018 and 2022 Cups to be by FOX

I thought it was worth noting ESPN no longer has rights to World Cup coverage after 2014.  ESPN has covered the event the last 6 times, meaning since 1990 since the Cup is held every 4 years.  FOX will take over coverage for at least the 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar) World Cups.  Apparently a blind auction took place, and ESPN was outbid.  According to Fortune, the auction was worth $425 M, 4 times as much as the $100 M ESPN shelled out to cover the 2006 and 2010 Cups.  FOX hopes its new sports exclusive channel FOX Sports 1 will compete with ESPN.

Univision is also losing its rights as they were outbid by Telemundo for the 2018 and 2022 cups.  Univision paid $325 M for the 2006/2010 Cups, and Telemundo upped that to $600 M for the 2018/2022 Cups.

A few stats regarding soccer and sports viewership in the U.S.:

  • The 2010 World Cup viewership was the most ever, averaging a 2.1 rating (2.29 million households and 3.26 million viewers), a 31% rise from 2006.
  • 15.9 million watched USA play Ghana Monday night between ESPN and Univision.
  • This crushed the viewership of the NHL Finals Game on Friday (~6 million) and competed with the NBA Final Game on Sunday (17.9 million).
  • 24.7 million watched the World Cup Final on Univision/ESPN in 2010.
  • This is still a long ways from the NFL, which touted 111.5 million viewers for the last Super Bowl.

I will be curious what the viewership for this World Cup Final will be.  I expect much larger.  Regardless, the stats are there — futbol is growing in America, and I like that.  A lot more money for TV coverage, and a lot more viewers.

The last point I wanted to make here is the high bar ESPN has set for World Cup coverage this year.  There are 64 total matches over a one-month period in 12 different stadiums.  ESPN, ESPN2, and ABC are covering every single one of them in high definition, with ABC covering 10.   They also have 6 different pairs of commentators (6 play by play, 6 analysts), with certain analysts always paired together to call for the England, USA, and Mexico games.   I think this is very important for the viewing experience as I enjoy listening to an Englishman analyzing a England game, an American a USA game, or a Venezuelan a Mexico game.

Finally, ESPN is providing the coverage on their WatchESPN app, which means if you have a cable provider, you can watch any of the games and their replays over the internet on your computer, phone, or tablet.  It’s what I’ve been using, and it’s been playing high definition quality on my computer with no problem.  It is awesome to me how much dedication and resources ESPN has put into this Cup.

And to be honest, this is why I’m a bit disappointed that ESPN lost future cups on a blind auction.  I don’t understand why there wasn’t negotiating involved.  It makes me weary that once the baton is passed, the standards won’t be as high.

It will be up to FOX to prove that.  I hope they will at least be on par with ESPN with their dedication, wide coverage, access to all, high technology, and expert commentary/analysis.  I fear it could be different…such as charging to have access to stream the games, not covering every game, or not having the all-star commentary that ESPN has brought in this year.  FOX has began using Gus Johnson as a play-by-play guy for some soccer matches on their network, apparently prepping him to be the go-to guy for future World Cups as Ian Darke has been for ESPN.  I really enjoyed listening to Gus commentate during March Madness and College Basketball.  He has a great voice, and his passion for the game comes through his voice.  But when I first heard him talk during a soccer match, it was different.  He doesn’t know the game as well, and it was awkward at times.  There were stretches of him being quiet, and since he’s just recently learned the sport, it seemed he wasn’t even familiar with all the rules.  It seems like a bold idea by FOX, to throw someone with no background of the sport to the forefront of calling the biggest soccer matches in the world, but its 4 years away, and we’ll see how it unfolds.

All I’m saying is — FOX, you’ve got a high bar to live up to.  And ESPN — Thank you for the awesome coverage this year.


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