ESPN has come a long way since televising just seven matches during the 1982 World Cup in Spain, and it is spending big-time money and using every resource possible to make sure you don't forget it.
The premier sports network is spending an unprecedented $100 million to ensure its name is stamped all over the FIFA World Cup this year in addition to the 2014 tournament in Brazil. Criticized for having the rights in 2006, ESPN has shaken off the negativity to once again broadcast the world's largest sporting event on every medium it has available.
All matches will be live and in high definition on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2, its Spanish language channel ESPN Deportes, and streaming online via ESPN3.com and its new ESPN Mobile TV. The broadband is expected to reach 41 million homes in what the network believes is a nation more serious about soccer than in years past. In addition, all games will rebroadcast on ESPN Classic and all 64 games will be available through the end of the year on ESPN3.com.
"If you can take an audience and make them watch over a long period of time, it has the same effects as growing a number of viewers," ESPN executive producer Jed Drake said. "It's the simple math of ratings and we have targeted our presentation towards a knowledgeable soccer audience."
Perhaps the greatest change will be that, for the first time, the network has decided to go with an all-British announcing crew, garnering the services of legendary Sky Sports voice Martin Tyler. In addition, Ian Darke and longtime ESPN employees Derek Rae and Adrian Healey will form a four-man crew, supplemented by Efan Ekoku, the former Nigerian national team forward, and former U.S. national team captain John Harkes as color analysts.
JP Dellacamera, who has covered previous World Cups for the network, will become the lead play-by-play on ESPN Radio and will put "the bulge in the ol' onion bag" with lead analyst Tommy Smyth. Dellacamera will cover the second round through the final live in South Africa, but will handle the first round with Smyth at ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Conn.
"ESPN is spending more money and putting more emphasis on this World Cup than any other in its history by far," said Dellacamera, who also does play-by-play for the Union on 6ABC. "I am certain everyone knows the World Cup is coming just because all of the hype surrounding the event being spouted by ESPN. No network is as diversified and equipped to take on such a huge task of covering every game live of what in my opinion is the greatest sporting event in the world."
Employee-wise, the network has beefed up its staff, sending 165 people to South Africa in addition to hiring 50 additional members stateside, doubling the size of the staff it used 4 years ago.
However, there are some complaints about the use of the all-British announcing team to broadcast the United States' Group C run. It's a legit complaint, but ESPN does plan to have Harkes in the booth for all U.S. matches. In addition, former U.S. defender Alexi Lalas and ESPN journalist Bob Ley will be studio analysts.
"It is launch control and being put together with a spirit that makes you so proud to work here," said Ley. "I don't know how we're keeping it together. There is a complexity here that is mind boggling, but it's working and there is a great spirit among the people. We have a lot of local folks working for us and there is a joy and spirit and pride in this event. It's palpable, it really is."