For First Time, Every Game Will Be Broadcast
By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 10, 1998; Page F2
"Look," he said, "this is the biggest sports event on the planet, and our feeling is we've got to be there. ... "My only concern is to put on the best possible show we can get. My job is to put on a terrific telecast, not worry about who's watching. I think once it gets going, people definitely will watch."
In 1994, when the World Cup was played in the United States, ABC had the highest ratings ever for American network soccer telecasts, averaging a 5.3 rating and a 16 share of the audience for the 11 games it showed. The U.S. matches got a 7.0 rating and a 20 share, and the championship game between Brazil and Italy had a 9.5 rating and a 24 share. (Each network ratings point that year represented 942,000 households; the share is the percentage of sets in use that are tuned to the particular program.) ESPN's 29 World Cup matches in 1994 had a 2.2 overall rating and ESPN2's nine games a 0.8. (Each ESPN cable ratings point that year represented 627,000 households. Each ESPN2 point represented 140,000 homes.)
"I think we're all curious to see how much interest there will be this time around," said Seamus Malin, a long-time soccer analyst who will work 20 games with play-by-play partner Bob Ley. "There's nothing like having the TV party in your own room. There was a lot of interest in '94 because it was in America. I honestly don't know what to expect."
This time, the ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 alliance will present more than 230 hours of coverage during the 32-day World Cup. For the first time in American TV history, every one of the 64 games will be aired live. Fourteen will be on ABC, 27 on ESPN and 23 on ESPN2. The earliest match telecast will begin at 8 a.m. (2 p.m. in France, which is six hours ahead of the Eastern time zone) and the latest will start at 2:30 p.m. The best match of the day also will be taped and aired on ESPN2 at 8 every night. Every telecast will include a 30-minute pregame show, a halftime show and a postgame wrap-up. During the games, each 45-minute half will not be interrupted by commercials, which will be shown during the pregame and halftime shows. Sponsors will have their logos superimposed on the screen during game action, but they will not be intrusive, Mason said.
ESPN2 also will have a nightly "World Cup 2Night" show that usually will start at 7:30 and recap the day's activities. Jeremy Schaap has been assigned as a correspondent attached solely to the U.S. team and will offer reports on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2, with a heavy emphasis on work for ESPN's "SportsCenter."
ABC, ESPN and ESPN2, all of which are under the Disney corporate umbrella, primarily will use the world video feed provided by a consortium of French broadcasters, with 17 cameras, 11 tape machines and three slow-motion machines for every game. When the U.S. team is playing, that coverage will be supplemented by three additional cameras, primarily for isolations and bench shots of U.S. players and coaches.
"Our job is to set up the stories and get out of the way," Mason said. "In a project like this, particularly in the coverage of games, our philosophy is going to be less is more. I don't want to get in the way of the purest game of all. We'll cover it so the viewer can watch it and maybe even develop a little rooting interest for the U.S. team, or any other team in the competition.
"Globally, this is probably the biggest project of them all. There's no comparison. Yeah, the Olympics are big, but this thing lasts for an entire month. Everything else pales in comparison. This is not sport, it's pure passion."
That passion also will be readily available to American viewers on the Spanish-language Univision network (WMDO-48 on the UHF band in the Washington area, where most local cable systems also carry the network). Univision is planning to air all 64 games, with play-by-play announcer Andres Cantor calling many of them. You'll know Cantor when you hear him. His call of "GOOAAAAAAAALLLLLLL!" has become a staple of sports highlight shows in all languages around the world.
Univision is available in 92 percent of the cable households in the United States and has more than 100 million viewers internationally. It is sending more than 70 people to France, including 20 reporters. Another anchor, Jesse Losada, will man a World Cup desk from the network's Miami production complex.
"All but eight of the games will be live," said Rudy Guernica, station manager at WMDO. "The other eight will be edited down and shown immediately after our live telecasts. You'd be surprised at how many people who don't even speak Spanish watch the games on our station just because of the emotion that comes through from the announcers."
The same emotion also will be available on the radio, but in Spanish only.
Sadly, no English-language radio network will air live play-by-play of any World Cup games. Said one broadcasting executive: "Soccer is not a game that translates that well on the radio anyway, and with all the games on live TV, there just wasn't much of a market out there." ABC Radio and ESPN Radio (heard locally on WTEM-980) likely will offer the best coverage, with frequent updates and occasional feature stories, often provided by their TV cousins.
Radio Unica, a Spanish-language radio network, will cover 50 games over the course of the competition for its 57 stations nationwide, including WACA-1540 in Washington. The games will be aired during morning and afternoon drive times 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and also will include pregame, halftime and postgame programming.
"For Hispanics, it doesn't get any bigger than the World Cup," said Nickie Jurado, a Radio Unica spokeswoman. "There are over 30 million Hispanics in the U.S. To us, it's like broadcasting the Super Bowl for 30 days straight."
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