For World Cup, ESPN Gets Assist From Its Home Base in Brazil

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This is ESPN’s last World Cup—Fox’s contract begins next year—and the network wants to go out with a bang. While it will utilize the full might of its robust international operation, it will have some insider help as well. Aside from a very TV-friendly time zone—the majority of host country Brazil is only one hour ahead of the East Coast—the setting provides ESPN with an opportunity it hasn’t had with previous Cups, thanks to ESPN Brasil, the oldest international channel in the company’s arsenal, launched in 1995. “It’s almost as efficient as our newsroom in Bristol,” ESPN president John Skipper said during an event last month promoting World Cup coverage.

ESPN Brasil will offer a more insider-type approach and a clear and trusted entrée into the local culture, with it being a key staple in international sports programming. Skipper sees another, more important benefit, however.

Compared to the rest of the world, Skipper argues, the U.S. is still very much an “infant” in this tournament. Covering well not only the action but also one of the world’s most soccerhappy nations—the country of both Pelé and Ronaldo—offers tremendous opportunities for up-close-and-personal stories.

“Being able to be with people who lived the game every day from when they were 2 years old…we’ll take advantage of all the resources there,” said Skipper.

ESPN, which will make Rio de Janeiro’s Clube dos Marimbas its home for the monthlong tourney, situated the studios for its English-language and International coverage next to each other, with the global productions headquarters nearby. That will allow for talent from ESPN Brasil and other international nets to appear on the English-language network.

Aside from aiding the broadcasts, having a fully embedded operation provides myriad logistical advantages. “Americans could not manage with the culture, the government and the permits without the work that ESPN Brasil is able to navigate,” said ESPN coordinating producer Amy Rosenfeld.

The same can be said for covering the home country’s current difficulties, as well-documented social and economic unrest continues to plague the South American nation. Having local reporters offer expertise and perspective will undoubtedly aid the broadcasts.

Bob Ley, who will be ESPN’s main host for the coverage, recalled an experience two years ago when he was working on a story about Brazil’s readiness for the World Cup. “We got a quick sense that the one independent journalistic voice in Brazil is ESPN Brasil,” said Ley. “Other media outlets are perceived to have affiliations.”