The night of the big Word Cup Qualifier has arrived and as we have in the past, we thought we would “business blog” the ESPN coverage. We will discuss the sponsors, broadcast quality and other media matters of the coverage. Before we start, a couple of quick notes: The game was moved to ESPN2 from ESPN within the last 24 hours. This is actually a positive development in many ways. ESPN2 was to show college softball, but the season ended a day early. The soccer game was to follow the Yankee game on ESPN, however there would be little chance that game would by 10…thereby causing parts of the game to be transferred to ESPN Classic. With nothing else to add on ESPN2, the soccer game will now get a 30 minute pre-game show and full attention during the broadcast.
It was also announced the ESPN broadcast team would handle the game from Bristol, CT and not live in Costa Rica. This is disappointing mostly because broadcasters in a studio often cannot see aspects of the game because they are reliant on the feed. ESPN’s lead-up coverage has been fairly good, with the game featuring prominently on ESPN.com and on ESPN News.
The studio team is the usual pairing of Stone and Lalas and after some brief intro, there is a nice video montage of qualifying to date and then some discussion of the line-up (not a business note, but is that really a 4-3-3 or a 4-5-1). First round of commercials started with GM/Goodwrench and was followed by AT&T which has been fairly agressive in marketing soccer this year. Dairy Queen has also been something of a intermittent presence and they showed up again to be followed by a PSA and then a series of local spots.
Upon return there is a nice feature on Tim Howard, but really “the MLS” ? Nice to see ESPN paying a little attention to MLS with a look at the Thursday night match-up and a glance at the standings and a bit of analysis. Also nice to see Philly Union getting some airtime. Second round of commercials starts with an ad for Toyota Prius and then back to local spots (and some MLS commercials from the last campaign). It is fairly disappointing that ESPN cannot sell better ads for these USMNT matches. It is also interesting that many of the MLS advertisers are not involved in the USMNT broadcasts.
20 minutes till game time and after a brief look at Confederations Cup and then an interview with Bocanegra. Back to the ads and a quick Lexus ad followed by Lowes and a second AT&T ad. KFC joins the party with their newly popular grilled chicken and then the second 15 seconds for Lexus and some ESPN ads.
The atmosphere is defintely dulled with the broadcast team sitting in Bristol. The crowd noise is muted even after the Ticos go up in the third minute. ESPN’s graphics are repeatedly blocking the picture. There are no logo commercials on the screen New commercials for the half-time include State Farm, and there is a fairly substantive studio show and some non-soccer highlights.