ESPN Prepares Final World Cup Marketing Push

ESPN has enlisted rock band U2 and South Africa's Soweto Gospel Choir as part of its final marketing push before and during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which kicks off June 11 in South Africa.

At an April 14 press event in New York, ESPN production chief Jed Drake noted that there are 57 days until the World Cup begins, and 30 days of the event itself, giving the network just 87 days to flex its marketing muscle around soccer.

For the U2 and Soweto spots, the network is rolling out four pieces in advance of the tournament, and will feature clips in every program throughout the network's coverage of the event, including in highlight clips, match and studio coverage.

"This inspiring creative project with U2 and Soweto Gospel Choir will provide a distinctive, original voice to our coverage of the first FIFA World Cup to take place on the African continent," Drake said.

The network plans to target two key groups in its campaign: hardcore soccer fans and what Seth Ader, ESPN senior director of sports marketing, calls "big event sports fans" -- those who tune into events like the Super Bowl and Olympics, but may not watch sports regularly.

"Tens of millions of these sports fans that tune into these events on ESPN and other networks simply because they don't want to miss the drama that comes with competition of the highest order," Ader said, using the example of Michael Phelps during the 2008 Olympics.

For those fans, ESPN will be providing some key context, like players and teams to watch, the format of the tournament, and which African teams are in the event. There will also be deep-dive information for hardcore fans, hopefully delivering information they may not have known otherwise.

"This will be ESPN's most comprehensive promotional campaign behind a single event in the history of the company," Ader said. "That is saying something. We tend to promote things heavily, as you may have noticed."

ESPN will have over 300 staffers in South Africa, including 200 flown in from the U.S. and Europe. ESPN Executive VP of Content John Skipper says that the network plans to drive even more viewership than it saw with its 2006 World Cup coverage out of Germany, and that its multiplatform coverage and expansive marketing campaign are key to driving viewers.

"I believe that this summer, during the month of June, given our commitment to production, that the World Cup is going to dominate the discussion of sports fans in this country in a way that has not been seen previously," Skipper said.