Last week, Skipper was in South Africa to monitor his network's coverage of the FIFA Confederations Cup, a tournament that provided an unlikely dose of serendipity for ESPN. The final between the U.S. and Brazil was seen by an average of
"I will be disappointed and surprised if these are not the highest ratings ever for the World Cup in the United States," Skipper said of the 2010 event. "And we were just given a huge gift with the Confederations Cup."
ESPN owns the rights to the World Cup through 2014 and Skipper says his network is ahead of schedule with the tournament a little less than a year away.
"I think our ambition level is going to exceed the ambition of any broadcaster in the world relative to the amount of content we will produce," Skipper said. "We know what most of that content is and we have most of our features planned. We've got a host site and we are far along to identifying the people who will be there. We are in very good shape thanks to some really good work from the people in charge of our logistics and technical operations."
Among the features planned:
The game coverage will feature four reporters, including one reporter embedded with the U.S. team. Another reporter will focus on the South American teams, and two additional reporters will rotate around the tournament. ESPN will have two on-site sets, including
Of prominent interest to viewers, Skipper said no final decision has been made on game announcers. But the executive did say, "We will have international talent. Everybody on our air will be a longtime soccer announcer." That will please soccer's chattering class who howled (as well as turned to Univisión) at the selection of
Skipper's trip to South Africa was his second visit to the country. His itinerary included Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Rustenburg, the cities that hosted the Confederations Cup.
"At the venues themselves, I think the official security will be fine," he said. "In the country itself, there has to be some concerns, but I think if you go over there as a fan as I did, and you are cautious and exercise common sense, your chances of getting in trouble are very, very slim. The question then is when you have hundreds of thousands of football fans and some of them don't exercise caution or are reckless and stupid. That's what you worry about it.
"It's not yet the kind of place where I think you can get intoxicated and wander down the street and not worry about what might happen. So I think they have the official stuff in pretty good shape, and if you are careful, I think there's every chance you will be OK. I personally felt quite safe. I walked into the venues with the crowd and did not feel uncomfortable or threatened in any way."
In terms of scale and magnitude, the World Cup appears to be a dress rehearsal for what could be a future Olympics on ESPN. Said Skipper: "I'll answer that slightly by indirection: Our goal is to an Olympics-level broadcast. We view this as the first fully ESPN World Cup. We are taking
ESPN continues to expand its soccer presence. It recently partnered with GolTV
Skipper said his network is interested and does not have to have exclusivity. As first reported by
"We are very interested and we have relayed our interest to Mr. [Premier League chief executive