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Trip to South Africa? Count ‘SportsCenter’ in

“SportsCenter” is going on safari in 2010.

For the first time, ESPN will take its popular daily news program to the World Cup with two on-site sets and three host anchors offering live and tape-delayed coverage from South Africa in 2010. The undertaking will be more similar in scale to how the network uses “SportsCenter” at the Super Bowl as opposed to how it uses remote sets at an event like the recent Belmont Stakes.

“It will be fired up day, night, at all hours to serve the needs of [ESPN’s] family of networks,” said Jed Drake, ESPN senior vice president and executive producer, event production. “We are giving it everything we can to make it special.”

The move is just one in a series of program changes ESPN is making to its World Cup coverage in 2010, the first of two World Cups it is paying a combined $100 million to broadcast. The network also will film behind-the-scenes features on the people, culture, places and athletes in South Africa and offer the same type of lead-ins and lead-outs for games that it airs during “Monday Night Football.”

The changes underscore the importance the network is placing on the event in South Africa. ESPN identified the World Cup as one of its three corporate priorities this year. In years past, the only other productions to make that list were “SportsCenter” and the NBA.

“We’re looking at it as the premiere opportunity for the company to become immersed in a premiere global event,” said Scott Guglielmino, ESPN vice president of programming.

The centerpiece of that immersion will be two “SportsCenter” sets that will contribute to “SportsCenter” broadcasts in 14 countries throughout the monthlong World Cup, broadcasting in eight languages.

The coverage will be similar in scale to how
ESPN uses “SportsCenter” at the Super Bowl.

ESPN also holds World Cup rights in several Asian countries through ESPN Star Sports, as well as in Brazil.

The U.S., the most important market in the ESPN family, will use one of the sets for World Cup reports, including a nightly “World Cup Live” show. ESPN will have three anchor hosts and four reporters, who will follow teams and file reports from South Africa. One reporter likely will be assigned to the U.S. team in the same way ESPN reporter Ed Werder is assigned to the Dallas Cowboys. The group will collectively contribute to the majority of ESPN’s planned 45 hours of studio coverage of the World Cup.

ESPN will round out that “SportsCenter” coverage with features on the culture, people and continent of Africa. A crew will visit the country in advance of the World Cup to film features that have an “Olympic feel,” Drake said.

The network also sent its “Monday Night Football” production team to South Africa during this week’s Confederations Cup to collect footage of everything from safari ranges to behind-the-scenes shots of players preparing for games in their locker rooms. That footage will be spliced into segments leading into and out of broadcasts of the World Cup games.

ESPN hasn’t made any decisions about announcers and analysts for games, but executives said that it planned to handle the 2010 World Cup more like its telecasts of the Euro 2008 tournament than of the 2006 World Cup. For the Euros, it used Sky Sports commentator and Brit Andy Gray, whereas for the 2006 World Cup it used American Dave O’Brien.

The entire plan — from “SportsCenter” to its announcers — guarantees a dramatically different approach to the 2010 World Cup than what ESPN did in Germany in 2006. That year, the network sublicensed the rights from Soccer United Marketing. In 2010, it will own them and it is treating the event accordingly.

“We are hitting [South Africa] hard,” Drake said. “You will see coverage that, when it’s all said and done, will not only represent the event well but will capture the unique character and culture and people of this magnificent place.”

Staff writer John Ourand contributed to this report.

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