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ESPN's World Cup Gameplan

One day after attracting what is believed to be its largest audience for a non-World Cup men's soccer game ever, ESPN announced today that its coverage of the 2010 World Cup will include a nightly 30-minute show, and pre-, halftime and post-match shows, with additional studio programming and "World Cup-branded segments, totaling more than 65 hours of coverage, originating from two sets in and around Johannesburg."

It will mark the first time all of the network's World Cup studio work will be on site. The studio hosts will be Chris Fowler (college football, tennis), Bob Ley ("SportsCenter", "Outside the Lines"), and Mike Tirico (Super Bowl, NBA Finals, Final Four, major golf). ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC will combine to present high-definition coverage of all 64 matches.

We'll now await news on the match announcers.....

By Steve Goff  |  June 29, 2009; 3:09 PM ET
Categories:  2010 World Cup , TV  
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Good thing they've put together a studio crew with a solid knowledge of soccer....oh wait. Nevermind. Does the name Dave O'brien ring a bell? We all saw how well that worked out. Jeez, why don't they add Ocho Cinco as a guest commentator while they are at it? It makes just as much sense. FAIL.

Posted by: SonicDeathMonkey | June 29, 2009 3:26 PM | Report abuse

What? No coverage on the Disney Channel? ESPN hates soccer.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | June 29, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

As long as Allen Hopkins is left out, I am happy.

Harkes has really come into his own in the booth. I have grown to like more and more this year. He would be one of my first gringo picks.

However, the heavy hitter at ESPN is Derek Rae. The guy is outstanding. Good banter, analysis, and - listen here O'Brien - allows the game to breath, rather that constipate our ears with endless drivel.

Posted by: ErickSp8 | June 29, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Bob Ley is a good guy, and a fan of the game. I interviewed him for a column I wrote leading up to the 94 World Cup, and he was quite knowledgeable about the event and the importance of the US serving as host. The fact that they're putting Tirico and Fowler on tells me they're taking next summer's Cup seriously.

I expect lots of Insider Colleagues to be unimpressed, but we're a pretty fickle group. If we're ever completely happy, we'll have something to complain about. And we can't have that!

For me, ESPN is taking the right steps.

Posted by: joedoc1 | June 29, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

This is a good thing, this is not a "soccer team" it's a seasoned mainstream ESPN team. Unless you think lalas is going to grow the US game from the studio.

Wake up soccerhead snobs, embrace your American Budweiser and your American ESPN, for if they get behind US SOCCER, they bring MONEY to US SOCCER, which is a good thing.

Posted by: OWNTF | June 29, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

If soccer wants to be treated like a real sport, then we are going to get ESPN's team of analysts, their jacks-of-all-trade's like Fowler, Ley, or Tirico who do their homework and exhibit professionalism to the sports that they cover.

And honestly, if you are going to engage the casual US sports fan (non-soccer) then studio guys and familiar faces like Fowler and Tirico are the guys to do it. It's better than pushing niche studio guys out there with Alexi, Tommy Smyth and Harkes. The casual viewer sees those guys and turns the channel.

ESPN isn't doing this for us (the soccerphiles). We've been watching since 1990 or '94 or whatever and we aren't the audience they are trying to catch. They're going to trot out their reliable anchors to bring a sense of a major event to the World Cup. Tirico (Monday Night Football, Most of the PGA majors) and Fowler (College Football, mainly) add that in a way that ESPN hasn't done before.

Good grief. We just got every match of a non-World Cup tournament in HD, with top billing on Sportscenter for the final. Soccer (at least the Nats) are moving mainstream. Bring it on.

Posted by: MalagaCFfan | June 29, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

i think we can all agree that Mike Tirico is higher profile talent than dave o'brien, and he's only going to be running the studio, he won't be doing any p-b-p.

Posted by: la2stl | June 29, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Bob Lee! Awesome! Mike Tirico is also a good choice. Two very smart guys there. This is good news.

I find it a bit depressing that, after all these years and all the intelligent soccer players the US has produced, John Harkes is our best play-by-play guy. I also wish we could have Derek Rae do the US games (his voice always matches the situation), but I doubt ESPN would ever have a foreigner call American games.

Posted by: jsm91 | June 29, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Maybe Bob Bradley and Clint Dempsey can do play by play. Because they su*k so bad that US Soccer will probably fire them tomorrow after reading Soccer Insider threads today.

Posted by: OWNTF | June 29, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Bob Ley's been covering the WC since 1994. Not exactly a noob.

Tirico and Fowler are professionals who I'm sure they'll team with some other "experts".

Posted by: DrewROC | June 29, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

I know I may regret this later, but who cares who the announcers are as long as the matches are broadcast live in HD. No more having to hunt for crappy internet feeds.

Posted by: tundey | June 29, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

PS what's the deal with Torres? Why not Gold Cup? Why no PT at Confed Cup?

Posted by: DrewROC | June 29, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse

With that amount of studio time, they'll probably fill it with interviews of Eurostars, mainly from the EPL due to the TV contract. Wouldn't it be nice to have Alex Ferguson as a guest? I wonnna unnerstan a bludy ward 'e says, but 'es aight.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | June 29, 2009 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Bob Ley also did the '98 MLS Cup at RFK.

(The only way I, a fan for only the past four years, know that is because of the match DVD the team gave out last year for free.)

Posted by: Juan-John | June 29, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

While I count myself among the group of people that prefer not to have the ESPN experience for all (any) sporting event(s), it is a welcome sign that they are giving the US team and soccer more air time.

While knowledgeable soccer fans know that the ESPN product is not what other countries get, ESPN's approach works great for your average American. If soccer wants to be viewed as a main-stream, average American sport, it needs to be ESPN-ified to a degree to attract the fringe fans.

What the World Cup does, is the same thing that the Olympics does, bring people together for a common cause, supporting their country. That is something that ESPN can sell and that consumers everywhere buy! While I hate to admit it, ESPN putting a strong effort into soccer is a very good thing.

Posted by: therealfootball | June 29, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Previous comments are correct: Bob Ley is a soccer guy. He's done several features over the years.

ESPN has a lot of $$$ riding on these decisions. And the fact that they're moving Bristol to South Africa indicates that they intend to do right by everyone.

Posted by: DWE4 | June 29, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

More than 65 hours coverage plus the 96ish hours of game coverage from the 64 games?

Holy Zombie Jesus.

Posted by: Jooseppi | June 29, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

wow. it's about time.

but the line-up suggests that there will be many comparisons to Football (college & NFL) basket ball and MLB

Posted by: gmail | June 29, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Hmmm...will they bring in Brent Musburger out of the mothballs again next summer? :)

Posted by: wxdancer | June 29, 2009 4:02 PM | Report abuse

with top billing on Sportscenter for the final.

Posted by: MalagaCFfan

exactly. i was pleasantly surprised when the US match was the lead on both SportsCenter and ESPNews. i know it's a bit of a dead time on the sports calendar, but i don't recall that ever happening before.

Posted by: dimesmakedollars | June 29, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Hopefully ESPN won't be televising any college world series baseball during the World Cup...

Posted by: Tweaked | June 29, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Maybe Bob Bradley and Clint Dempsey can do play by play. Because they su*k so bad that US Soccer will probably fire them tomorrow after reading Soccer Insider threads today.

Posted by: OWNTF

now now, i was just questioning Dempsey's being the 3rd best player in the entire tournament (or 2nd if you believe the opinion of a synthetic motor oil), not saying he deserves to be jettisoned by a group of banshees.

Posted by: dimesmakedollars | June 29, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

That's great!

I just hope that the preceeding college baseball game doesn't run into extra innings before the World Cup final...

Posted by: marcool | June 29, 2009 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Um, this works for me.

I'm pleased.

Posted by: VirginiaBlueBlood | June 29, 2009 4:12 PM | Report abuse

PS what's the deal with Torres? Why not Gold Cup? Why no PT at Confed Cup?

Posted by: DrewROC

that seems to be the question on many pairs of Soccer Insider lips. has no one asked Bradley directly about this? or is Bradley getting a bit of a free ride because there are no American journalists in South Africa to ask him about lineups, subs, tactics and the like? Jere Longman from the NYTimes was there, but i haven't seen him address any of these issues as he's been more focused on profile pieces (Xavi, Altidore, Demerit, Donovan today) for a more "general interest" audience. i assume/hope someone (read: Goff) will dig into this a bit more once BB is back in the states, not because i love Torres, but because i think it's a question that deserves an answer so people can stop freaking out about it.

Posted by: dimesmakedollars | June 29, 2009 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Forgot to add:

I love Ley. Love Fowler (but only because he loves Oklahoma State football).

Hope they get Gray for the tournament (doubt it). I liked him for Euro 2008. Hope Rae gets it, as well. Rae + Gray would be an excellent team, and it would also hopefully see the end of Tommy Smyth (a man can dream, can't he?).

Martino ain't bad. Harkes is color, not play-by-play.

Posted by: Jooseppi | June 29, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse

And who knows? If the ratings are good enough, maybe this "World Cup Live" show can morph into a SoccerNet Live show that gets a half-hour a night on ESPN or ESPN2 after the end of the tournament, kinda like a mini fox Soccer Report?

Posted by: Juan-John | June 29, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

also, i will borrow a page from Curious99's playbook and say:

only 347 days until World Cup 2010!!!

Posted by: dimesmakedollars | June 29, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

SonicDeathMonkey, Ocho Cinco knows a lot about soccer. He's a big fan and he played growing up. I'd gladly have him on the air ahead of those guys.

Posted by: CACuzcatlan | June 29, 2009 4:36 PM | Report abuse

I am a BIG tennis fan and I can attest that Chris Fowler can do a good job covering sports outside of college football. His studio work at Wimbledon and the French has been solid, and I would agree it provides a trusted voice the larger ESPN audience likes. As long as he and the other big, mainstream ESPN names stay in the studio, I think this is fantastic news.

Posted by: adamsmorgan | June 29, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Anyone notice that the bowling tournament before the match was covered by Rob Stone? The bigest USA game in his career and he wasn't in the studio. Did his stock drop with Wynalda's?

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | June 29, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse

I'll be tuning into the Univision network and look forward to being to be blessed by the voice of Andres Cantor. Now there's a guy who knows how to call a game! He makes it really exciting. He gives the plays the urgency and suspense they deserve.

I don't think his English language trial worked out in the past (anybody know), but he's darn good in Spanish.

For those of you who don't understand Spanish, I'd even recommend switching it up between ESPN and Univision just to feel the energy.

Posted by: WorldCup | June 29, 2009 5:10 PM | Report abuse

This is really great news. More coverage. I hope their coverage is a little bit more genuine than what was served up in Germany. I was in Germany for the Cup and ESPN producers were running around each venue rounding up fans and asking them to cheer and scream in front of the camera. There was plenty of genuine spirit and excitement, the producers just weren't looking for it.

Posted by: mbyrd28 | June 29, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

I will say I thought Reece Davis did a great job with the Euros and then did good with the Confed Cup, surprised to see him get passed over for the World Cup. I am interested to see how Fowler does, I think him on College Gameday is great, he really tells good stories.

Posted by: member5 | June 29, 2009 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Anyone notice that the bowling tournament before the match was covered by Rob Stone?
Posted by: I-270Exit1 | June 29, 2009 5:02 PM

I guess Rob's career has dropped like a ...

Oh, forget it.

Posted by: joedoc1 | June 29, 2009 5:17 PM | Report abuse

I like the direction that ESPN is going with this. 3 good stuidio guys who do their prep work and always come to the table ready to go, combined with the fact that they will be live in S.A. and the fact that all games are in HD...

Only soccer fans would find things to complain about there.

Posted by: kebzach | June 29, 2009 5:22 PM | Report abuse


so i guess you could say he didn't strike the suits at ESPN as the kind of commentator they needed. looks like he'll have a lot of time to spare during WC2010. unless he decides to split for another network. what a turkey.

Posted by: dimesmakedollars | June 29, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Rob Stone has been doing bowling since before he was doing soccer, and that was a taped event, and Reece Davis is becoming Fowler II. Just saying.

Also, for new studio heads, why not the Special 1 TV crew?

Posted by: JacobfromAtlanta-ish | June 29, 2009 5:37 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: sitruc | June 29, 2009 5:40 PM | Report abuse

@ 270, joedoc, and dimesmakedollars

If you guys keep up the bad puns I'm going to have to split.

Posted by: BlackandRedRedDevil | June 29, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

bowling probably gets higher ratings than soccer on ESPN so that's not a sign of anything . . . . and Rob Stone rocks.

Posted by: OWNTF | June 29, 2009 5:58 PM | Report abuse

Studio guys sound fine. I would like to see Stoner involved somehow. Maybe he will be on the scene in SA. What about that Scotsman Andy Gray? As far as PBP, anyone but O'Brien and let's hope ESPN doesn't cover half the screen with endless, repetitive graphics.

Posted by: popoki08 | June 29, 2009 6:10 PM | Report abuse

Get your puns out of the gutter.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | June 29, 2009 6:14 PM | Report abuse

They should stick with the pairs of announcers they have now for matches on ESPN and ESPN2. No Julie Fowdy (Please!). Too bad the announcers for FSC will be out; won't have to hear the word "technical" every time a non-us player makes a move.

Going to have to take the whole month off...

Posted by: hacksaw | June 29, 2009 6:25 PM | Report abuse

Between the studio coverage and games, I'm not sure my DVR can hold it all! Woot!

Posted by: roadkit | June 29, 2009 6:47 PM | Report abuse

Am I the only one thinking:


Posted by: Hoost | June 29, 2009 7:59 PM | Report abuse

Chris Fowler and Co... Go f--k yourself.

Please bring in people who know about soccer.


Posted by: arswift24 | June 29, 2009 8:10 PM | Report abuse

Harkes has really come into his own in the booth. I have grown to like more and more this year. He would be one of my first gringo picks.

Posted by: ErickSp8 | June 29, 2009 3:35 PM




Posted by: jayrockers | June 29, 2009 8:47 PM | Report abuse

It's been quite a while, but my memory is that Bob Ley was excellent at covering soccer. I'd have preferred Reece Davis to Fowler (more experience), but whatever.

Posted by: stancollins | June 29, 2009 9:19 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: bigwave | June 29, 2009 9:46 PM | Report abuse

The more non-Americans we can get to handle the play-by-play of the World Cup, the better. I love the charm and energy AND knowledge of Derek Rae and Andy Gray.

And while I realize there are some Tommy Smyth haters, I'm not one of them. I love the Irishman's quirkiness and jokes AND knowledge of the game. He is much more fascinating to listen to than JP and Harkes.

Posted by: Cerealman | June 29, 2009 10:51 PM | Report abuse

Am I the only one thinking:


Posted by: Hoost | June 29, 2009 7:59 PM


Haha that was my first thought! If they set up an outdoor location in J'burg, you know there will be a constant crowd of Americas milling around screaming in the background, College Gameday-style. And there will definitely be at at least one sign about Corso or Herbstreit.

Posted by: mjr24 | June 29, 2009 10:54 PM | Report abuse

I think this can only be construed as good news. I just hope we don't get Dave O'Brien v2.0

Still, It's only the studio, so it won't really matter. For the actual games, my guess is that we'll have JP & Harkes, Glenn Davis & Kmart and Derek Rae & Tommy Smyth.

I second the love for Andres Cantor. That guy is awesome, though it helps to 1) understand Spanish and 2) be (half) Argentine. Is he really doing the Univision games? That would be fantastic!

Posted by: bennyf118 | June 29, 2009 10:58 PM | Report abuse

Andy Gray! Andy Gray! Andy Gray!

Posted by: Lucius2 | June 29, 2009 11:36 PM | Report abuse

To those who are slamming this decision by the worldwide leader . . .

You've GOT to be kidding me.

Fowler is considered the best host they've got. Ley is an old hand who knows the game. Tirico is their go-to anchor on the most prized franchises that they've got the rights to (MNF, major golf, NBA). Plus, adding Tirico means that you probably get bonus coverage on his radio show which airs each afternoon.

This isn't running a studio show out of Charlotte while they do standups overseas, this is their absolute A team going to cover an enormous event.

You want a sign that ESPN thinks this is a big deal? You just found it. They can bring in all the soccer-specific talent you want to analyze games. All three of these guys are absolute pros.

Posted by: scavendish442 | June 29, 2009 11:44 PM | Report abuse

So long as Dave O'Baseball (Look at Michael Beckman! Number 23 passes to number 10! The temperature is hot and players are sweating!) is not one of the announcers it will be 100% better than 2006.

Posted by: truth2 | June 30, 2009 12:18 AM | Report abuse

Um, some of the comments are way, way off.

First of all, Andy Gray is going to be a studio man for Sky Sports while BBC has exclusive WC coverage.

Second, Andres Cantor left Univision a long time ago for Telemundo. It'll be Pablo Ramirez doing lead for Univision. Cantor is likely to do radio.

Third, Ray Hudson is going to be on radio, too with Phil Schoen and Harksie and Dave Johnson. Mind you, Hudson was money in 2002 (ROB: So, what would you do if you were Friedel in the locker room encouraging your defense? RAY: Oh, I'll be kissing the bums in the showers!)

Posted by: bs2004 | June 30, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to see Josh Elliot involved in some way. He did a great job calling highlights of the Confederations Cup during the live a.m. SportsCenters last week. His best moment came during Monday morning's show as they ran down the top 10 plays from the weekend. Donovan's goal against Brazil was ranked 9 and he spent the rest of list making snide comments about how none of the relatively routine and mundane baseball plays ranked higher were even close to the caliber of Donovan's goal. He seemed generally upset about the snub and I loved every second of it.

Posted by: couchtoast | June 30, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

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