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The U.S.-Germany FIFA World Cup match begins at 12:00pm ET today, and the midday start time means ESPN is not likely to top TV soccer records set during the first two U.S. matches of this tournament. However, there could be streaming records set today on WatchESPN. Each of the top five most-viewed ESPN streams all time have come during this year’s World Cup. The June 16 U.S.-Ghana match holds the top spot with 1.4 million unique viewers, followed by last Sunday's U.S.-Portugal draw with 1.37 million viewers. For comparison, this year’s Florida State-Auburn BCS National Championship game drew 773,000 unique viewers on WatchESPN (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).TOP EVENTS ALL-TIME ON WATCHESPN IN TERMS OF UNIQUE VIEWERSRANK
EVENTUNIQUE VIEWERS1 '14 FIFA World Cup: U.S.-Ghana1.4 million2 '14 FIFA World Cup: U.S.-Portugal1.37 million3 '14 FIFA World Cup: Mexico-Brazil1.3 million4 '14 FIFA World Cup: Germany-Portugal1.1 million5 '14 FIFA World Cup: Brazil-Croatia1.1 million
FLOAT UPSTREAM: The AP's Rachel Cohen noted even if fans "get in front of a TV" to watch U.S.-Germany, they "still may use another device to keep an eye on the other Group G match" between Portugal and Ghana. ESPN Senior VP/Product Development Ryan Spoon said that the net's research has shown that many people "now routinely use multiple screens to follow the action, and they use the same apps across multiple devices." WatchESPN telecasts through 40 World Cup games "have averaged 720,000 live unique viewers," up 139% from the '10 tournament in South Africa. A hint of the potential for U.S.-Germany "comes from last week's match between Brazil and Mexico, played on a Tuesday afternoon." With "huge interest among Mexican-Americans, Univision Digital had 1.6 million unique viewers." Unlike WatchESPN, Univision Digital "doesn't require a pay TV subscription at this stage of the tournament," so it "should also draw a big streaming audience" today (AP, 6/25).
CRACK DOWNSTREAM: The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Scott Roxborough reports FIFA ahead of this year's World Cup "took the unprecedented move of warning dozen of video websites to be vigilant in preventing users from posting illegal live streams of tournament matches and to take down streams as soon as they appear." FIFA "warned the sites if they didn't comply, criminal charges would follow." Google received "takedown requests under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for 68 domains allegedly screening World Cup matches but rejected most of them, allowing 46 of those sites to remain in its search results." MarkScan, a company working on behalf of several World Cup copyright holders, filed "hundreds of similar DMCA requests with similarly unimpressive results." Several of the MarkScan takedown requests "were for links to articles on legitimate news sites explaining how to legally watch the World Cup online" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 6/26).
The '14 FIFA World Cup has introduced millions of Americans to ESPN's "Men in Blazers," Michael Davies and Roger Bennett, "two scruffy, balding Britons, clutching a miniature banana as a make-believe microphone, riffing on the day’s games," according to Jonathan Mahler of the N.Y. TIMES. Davies and Bennett until recently were best known for their weekly 'Men in Blazers' podcast on Grantland.com "with a small but devoted following of American soccer geeks." But with the sport "now dominating the American sports conversation, they are off the margins and in the mainstream, doing daily online video reports for ESPN and popping up" on shows like MSNBC's "Morning Joe," PBS' "Charlie Rose" and "CBS News Sunday Morning." Bennett and Davies are "less sports analysts than cultural observers, looking for amusing ways to frame the most compelling story lines of the tournament." The "casual repartee" between Davies and Bennett is "reminiscent of the days when Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann anchored a more free-form version of ESPN’s 'SportsCenter'" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/26). Davies and Bennett previewed today's U.S.-Germany match, with Davies saying, "Brace yourself, huge game coming." Bennett interjected and said, "Bigger than that." The two hosts exchanged joking banter while also offering commentary on what the U.S. team needs to accomplish in order to defeat or draw with Germany. Davies said the U.S.' performance against Portugal was the "best performance we've seen, certainly going forward, in a World Cup game." Bennett: "That is how you walk through the shadow of the valley of the group of death." Davies said of today's game, "So many people are going to be calling sick out of work." Bennett noted, "Including us" ("Men in Blazers," ESPN FC, 6/26).
SEVERAL REASONS FOR BIG RATINGS: SI's Richard Deitsch appeared on the Fox Sports podcast "The Buzz with Jimmy Traina" and said there are a "number of reasons" the World Cup has gotten such high ratings. The time difference "is phenomenal," as Brazil is "one, two hours ahead of the Eastern Time zone." He said, "Generally speaking, ESPN could not have gotten a better time zone, so the ratings had to go up just because the time difference is better. That’s where it starts." Another factor is that the U.S. "is a big event country." Regardless of whether it is "soccer or basketball and obviously football, we tend to as a culture watch big sporting events on TV," and the World Cup "is a big event." Meanwhile, Deitsch notes ESPN's "commitment and marketing to this event is unbelievable." He said, "They can dictate sporting conversation in this country. ... Whether its written or sort of assumed that soccer has to be a conversation point during the day, this country’s talking about soccer. Then everyone follows” ("The Buzz with Jimmy Traina," FOXSPORTS.com, 6/26).
IT'S ALWAYS SUNIL: U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati called the U.S. TV ratings for the World Cup "fantastic." In a wide-ranging interview with the WASHINGTON POST's Steven Goff, Gulati said, "It’s one of those few times where it’s predicted. I said if the U.S. does well here, we are going to set ratings records, and we have. I think it will continue if we do well. Thursday will be a little trickier because it’s a day-time game on a weekday." He also addressed other World Cup-related activity in the U.S., including "fanfests, stadiums opening up to put on the games, water-cooler talk, bars that aren’t traditionally showing soccer, where you (used to) have to bay the bartender to put soccer on." Gulati: "Hopefully we can keep that level of intensity where it is. That won’t continue after the World Cup; no one imagines that is what it’s going to be like the following week for national team games. But we’re on a positive trend line in this sport; what this does is jump us up to a much higher trend line" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 6/25).
VIRTUAL REALITY: USA TODAY's Laine Higgins notes EA Sports' "FIFA" videogame is the company's "best-selling title, accounting for nearly 25% of its revenue," and it is "helping boost interest in the World Cup." Although the "FIFA" game "has been around for nearly a decade, it did not take off" until the '10 World Cup. EA Sports Senior Producer for "FIFA" Nick Channon said, "We saw a huge influx of fans coming in from World Cup product." He added that 60% of those who played the "FIFA" '10 World Cup edition "had never previously played a 'FIFA' game." While "FIFA" does not have one target group, "one of its biggest markets is the college-age player" (USA TODAY, 6/26).
The Big Ten Network and Comcast have "finalized an agreement for distribution in New Jersey and Maryland, as the Big Ten prepares to officially welcome new members Rutgers and Maryland on July 1," according to Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com. BTN announced "similar agreements with both Time Warner Cable and Cablevision in May, so the Comcast pact means the network will be available on the three major cable distributors" servicing the N.Y. and DC markets. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said, "It indicates that the Eastern initiative is moving forward in the direction we hoped it would." Rittenberg noted BTN's distribution will "slightly vary from state to state, but it will be available to many more Comcast customers rather than appearing strictly on a separate sports tier." Launch dates have yet to be finalized, but BTN President Mark Silverman said that all three cable distribution agreements will "go into effect before the football season starts in late August." Silverman will "try to get distribution deals with smaller cable carriers in the next few months" (ESPN.com, 6/25). In Newark, Dan Duggan notes the network now will "reach 60 million homes, up from 52 million last year." It also will be "available on expanded basic cable, which is in line with how the BTN is carried in other Big Ten states." Financial terms of the deals were unavailable, but Silverman said that the net is "receiving rates comparable to deals in other markets." Meanwhile, a plan for the network to hold "Rutgers Day" on July 2 "has been postponed due to delays acquiring the broadcast rights to some of Rutgers' past games" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 6/26).
120 Sports, the new digital-only multisports network, debuted at 6:00pm ET last night, buttressed from the very start with a no-hitter by Giants P Tim Lincecum that was completed just minutes after the venture debuted its nightly live programming. True to its premise, the service feature a quick-paced roundup of the day’s various leading sports events, leading off with the Lincecum no-hit bid, continuing with several other in-progress MLB games, and then moving to trade rumors involving the Heat and new contracts for NHL Kings RW Marian Gaborik and Lightning RW Ryan Callahan. Supplementing the live look-ins and highlights were various polls, trivia segments and checks to see which sports topics were trending on Twitter. The video shared the screen with “data cards” filled with tweets, news headlines, ads, and other material. The initial live coverage was anchored by Michael Kim, Dylan McGorty and Bryant McFadden. The first ad break came 14 minutes into the live coverage, with a 30-second spot from Geico followed by another 30-second ad from Verizon Wireless. The companies are two of the four initial corporate partners of 120 Sports. Their deals, along with those for Nissan and Transamerica, last for the duration of the calendar year. 120 Sports President and Silver Chalice Vice Chair Jason Coyle said the initial intent will be to keep the number of sponsors limited while the venture seeks to build scale. “We’re trying to make sure the ad inventory is not out of line with a great content experience,” Coyle said.
EXCITED FOR THE LAUNCH: Coyle addressed the entire staff of roughly 130 shortly before the live debut. “It’s not going to be any Rockne type of thing,” he said prior to the address. “But it’s been amazing to witness a group of individuals from all over the country come together into a really high-functioning team over these last few months as we prepared for launch.” Soon after Lincecum's no-hitter ended, 120 Sports tweeted, “We PROMISE, we didn’t pull any strings with our partners at @MLB to have Tim Lincecum throw a no-hitter to open our live debut!” Meanwhile, the PGA Tour was announced late yesterday as the newest equity partner in the startup venture, joining existing investors Silver Chalice, the NHL, Time Inc., Campus Insiders and MLBAM. The size of the Tour’s stake was not disclosed, but officials said the property does not have a subordinate position in the company even though it invested later than the other, initial partners.
Fox Sports yesterday announced it has signed announcer Tim Brando to a multiyear deal that will "include play by play duties for college football and college basketball" on Fox and FS1, according to David Barron of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Brando made an "amicable departure earlier this year from CBS Sports, where he called NCAA Tournament games and hosted studio shows," including "College Football Today." Brando said, "No matter how confident you are or how well you do your job, there’s no guarantee you’re going to get to continue doing it. Exactly what I wanted to happen to my career has happened. It just took a little longer getting to the finish line than I suspected it would.” Brando earlier this month had acknowledged reports that he would be "doing basketball games for ESPN’s SEC Network with no reference to football work." An ESPN spokesperson yesterday said regarding Brando, “We were in discussions but didn’t come to an agreement. We wish him well.” Brando added, "People want to identify announcers with [a] certain conference, and when you’ve done the SEC on CBS for 16 years in the studio and worked for 18 years at a network doing the SEC, you’re going to get pigeonholed into that thought process. Everybody thought that it was a fait accompli that I was going to the SEC Network, and I was never sure that was going to happen." Brando said that he "talked two weeks ago last Monday with Fox officials" in L.A. Brando: "I’m really stoked about what I am going to get to do. Football is the big tail that wags the dog, and they offered me a full package of games through the season to go along with college basketball, which is enhanced by their Big East package. I wanted to break away from the studio and do games, and this will give me that platform" (CHRON.com, 6/25).
StubHub has renewed its existing, long-term deal with ESPN to remain the media giant’s exclusive ticketing partner. The three-year extension of the deal that began in ’07 will run through ’17 and focus extensively on the company’s various digital properties, including desktop, mobile and app-based platforms. The deal also contemplates continued exclusivity for StubHub on ESPN-owned and operated extensions yet to exist, such as how the launch of Grantland and FiveThirtyEight.com came after the last contract was struck and then were folded into the partnership. Financial terms were not disclosed, but StubHub termed its commitment “significant.” “This has been an important partnership for us, and we’re pleased to be able to continue it,” said StubHub Managing Dir of Partnership & Business Development Geoff Lester. “We spent a lot of time on this, working out a structure that works for both of us where we have a good amount of flexibility across platforms during the life of this agreement.” As has been case, the deal among other activations will include StubHub event links and seat maps integrated directly into ESPN digital content.
USA Track & Field today announced an agreement with a tech company to develop a video app that assists amateur competitors with their technique. Coach’s Eye, which was created by software developer TechSmith, analyzes video of a competitor running and provides instant feedback on their technique through slow-motion replays and drawing tools. The deal with USATF will allow users to compare videos of themselves against videos of Olympians like Allyson Felix and Ashton Eaton. The app will cost $1.99 and be promoted at this weekend’s USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Sacramento. Financial terms of the USATF agreement with TechSmith were not provided.