Thursday, January 03, 2002

ABC, ESPN to air 2002, 2006 World Cups

AP Sports Writer

        NEW YORK — Set those alarm clocks or load up on caffeine. The 2002 World Cup will be broadcast live in the United States on English-language TV.

        Under a broad and unusual deal announced Wednesday, ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC will show all 64 games of the tournament in South Korea and Japan from May 31 to June 30.

        Most games start at 2:30 a.m., 5 a.m. or 7:30 a.m. EDT, with the final at 7 a.m. EDT on June 30.

        Unlike 1994 or 1998, though, ESPN and ABC won't be paying upward of $20 million for the broadcast rights to the world's most-watched sports event. Instead, the networks are turning over time slots to MLS, which will sell ads and cover production costs.

        The U.S. team's first-round games are on June 5 at 5 a.m. EDT (vs. Portugal on ESPN2), June 10 at 2:30 a.m. (vs. South Korea on ESPN2) and June 14 at 7:30 a.m. (vs. Poland on ESPN).

        “The U.S. draw, from an ABC standpoint, certainly didn't work out as well as we could have hoped,” ABC senior VP Loren Matthews said. His network might show the U.S.-Poland game on tape “if that storyline holds and there is something to play for there.”

        As recently as 1986, only the World Cup championship game was shown in the United States on English-language television.

        The new package, which MLS hopes will raise the sport's profile in this country, also includes the 2006 World Cup in Germany and the 2003 Women's World Cup in China. The networks also agreed to air five seasons of MLS games through 2006.

        “This arrangement provides the opportunity for cross-marketing, promotion, sales integration and strategic scheduling,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said. “We are pleased to continue our partnership with ABC and ESPN ... and look forward to growing the sport together on television.”

        MLS reportedly paid $40 million-$50 million to buy the U.S. TV and radio rights to the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and the 2003 Women's World Cup from German media company Kirch Group. Kirch purchased the rights from FIFA, soccer's governing body, in May.

        Of the 2002 World Cup's 64 games, 17 will be broadcast live on ESPN, 46 on ESPN2 and the final on ABC, which also will show eight other games on tape. About 10 games will be replayed on ESPN or ESPN2 on tape.

        Four years ago, when the tournament was in France, ESPN showed 27 games, ESPN2 23, and ABC 14 — all live.

        “From at least a ratings perspective. it's going to be difficult to project. We understand there's a small audience in the middle of the night,” ESPN senior VP Mark Shapiro said. “When it comes to this upcoming World Cup, it's not about ratings, it's about providing our viewers with a service.”

        There is a sizable enough audience for soccer in the United States, even if TV ratings for MLS (about 200,000 homes per game on ESPN and 165,000 on ESPN2 this season) and WUSA (a little above 300,000 on TNT) were disappointing.

        The 1998 World Cup coverage on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 and Spanish-language Univision averaged, combined, about a 4.4 national household rating. The final between France and Brazil drew the equivalent of about a 7.4 on ABC and Univision together. The numbers were even better in 1994, when the World Cup was played in the United States.

        A new company headed by Garber and formed by MLS investor-operators Anschutz Entertainment Group, The Hunt Sports Group and Dentsu Inc., will oversee sales and broadcast production for the World Cup telecasts.

        Univision will show all games live — 56 on Univision (which reaches about 70 percent of U.S. TV homes) and eight on a new network it's about to launch — with many being replayed in prime time to allow for a greater audience.


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