ESPN is preparing once again to carry the matches of the FIFA World Cup and has now added two new faces to its team of analysts in the form of Brazilian World Cup champion Gilberto Silva (left) and Dutch soccer legend Ruud van Nistelrooy (right).
At the 2014 TCA press tour, ESPN’s senior vice president of event production Jed Drake says that all told, the broadcasting team will include analysts from 12 different countries, not including Greece, the home country of his fellow panelist Alexi Lalas, an ESPN soccer analyst and one of the stars of the 1994 U.S. World Cup team.
Drake also spoke of his enthusiasm for the way ESPN covers soccer in general for the U.S., particularly the World Cup.
“The [World Cup] coverage in 2010 was as good as any NFL playoff coverage and it certainly will be again,” says Drake. “In terms of where soccer is in the U.S. and coverage of it, I’m quite pleased, candidly, with our coverage of the U.S. national team and our coverage of MLS, as it continues to grow.”
As far as the 2014 tournament goes, the U.S. team has drawn what is referred to as the “Group of Death,” which is the only group of four that is entirely made up of teams that advanced to the knock-out round in 2010. Drake says that while the U.S.’ odds of advancing out of the group are not great, he doesn’t think that will affect the viewership of the World Cup in this country.
“We don’t go into this world cup with the expectation that the U.S. is going to go deep into the tournament,” says Drake. “Our viewers in this country have secondary teams, have tertiary teams and that’s part of the fun of this. If the U.S. does get knocked out, then so be it and on we go. …
“What we hope will happen is what happened [in 2010], the rest of America, the casual viewers, quickly caught on to the fact that this is spectacle second to none.”
Lalas adds that the tough group does give the U.S. a chance to play a wonderful underdog role.
“The U.S. has their hands full in Group G. It is one of the hardest groups the U.S. has ever gotten,” says Lalas. “The U.S. for many, many years, even back when I was playing, played the underdog very, very well. … They’re back in that comfort zone of being that underdog.”
Also, a nice side effect of a lot of U.S. viewers having secondary teams that they root for is that they are knowledgeable about the sport, which Lalas enjoys in covering the sport as an analyst.
“We’re not dumbing it down anymore. … Seeing the progression and the evolution of the way we talk about soccer, I’m not up there explaining what a throw-in is,” says Lalas. “We’ll slow the bus down a little but, but you gotta jump on.”
“We’re going to produce our coverage for the knowledgeable soccer fan,” adds Drake.
The 2014 World Cup kicks off with Thursday, June 12 at 3 p.m. ET/noon PT with Brazil vs. Croatia.