SBD/February 1, 2011/Media

ESPN Putting Its Own Touch On Soccer Coverage In The U.K.

Pitch-side set among innovations ESPN has brought to U.K. soccer coverage
ESPN's U.K. channel "may not have revolutionised British football in the manner of Rupert Murdoch's Sky Sports," but it is "adding a few flourishes to the televised game," according to James Robinson of the London OBSERVER. The channel is "pioneering a more experimental approach" to coverage of the FA Cup, which broadcasters like to wrap "in nostalgia and treat its history and traditions with reverence." ESPN has persuaded teams "in the early rounds of the competition to allow cameras into dressing rooms," and host Ray Stubbs "has anchored coverage from pitch-side within touching distance of players." ESPN Europe, Middle East & Africa VP & Channel Manager Jeroen Oerlemans said that these moves are "part of a conscious attempt to position ESPN as a broadcaster who 'brings the fans closer.'" Oerlemans: "We wanted to be UK-oriented and not in any way, shape or form an American sports channel. The UK is clearly less brash. We are a lot more down to earth." Robinson noted ESPN officials "emphasise that relations with News Corp and Sky are cordial, pointing out that Sky market ESPN to their subscribers in the UK and that the US network piggy-backs on the Sky platform." ESPN Int'l Exec VP & Managing Dir Russell Wolff added that the net is "happy for Sky to be the senior partner in the UK" for coverage of the EPL. Wolff: "There will be markets where we bid against each other; there are other territories where we will not. You could have a very good second position in a market if that's the best business model you can build at that time." Robinson noted industry observers expect ESPN to "bid for at least two of the six packages of Premier League games when negotiations over the next series of three-year deals" for rights in the U.K. beginning with the '14-15 season begin next year (London OBSERVER, 1/30).

WATCHING THE STUDIO WHILE THEY'RE AWAY
: The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Mike Barnes noted Fox Sports is "leveraging its coverage" of Super Bowl XLV Sunday by airing the Liverpool-Chelsea EPL match on Fox Soccer Channel "before the NFL game and sprinkling the coverage with American football flavor." The FSC studio team "will broadcast before and after the Premier League game from the 'Fox NFL Sunday' set in Los Angeles." A "1,000-square-foot 'pitch' will be built on the set, and a live audience will include 40 Chelsea and Liverpool fans, evenly divided." Fox Soccer VP/Production Jason Wormser: "It shows the power of our synergy that we are able to take our studio shows over to the 'Fox NFL Sunday' set to produce our round version of football" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 1/28).
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