ESPN’S Olympic Tryout Is Golden
By Ben Grossman -- Broadcasting & Cable, 7/12/2010 12:01:00 AM
The Comcast-NBC Universal merger, however, has made that less of a sure bet. The pending transaction, not to mention Comcast’s interest in building up properties like its Versus sports network, has many thinking that the conjoined corporation may be more of a formidable bidder than a solo NBCU outfit would have been.
Then ESPN’s losing out on the NCAA March Madness package that many expected it would win prompted another round of thinking: that Disney will use that cash to pad its Olympic bid after all.
If that’s the case, ESPN’s coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup from South Africa has served as a de facto tryout to handle a modern Olympics. And if Disney indeed wants to send this month of coverage—along with a very fat check—as its application to the International Olympic Committee, it would give the company a great chance to land the property. ESPN has shown it is more than up to the Olympic task. Bottom line: Jed Drake, the network’s executive producer of events, and the company deserve a gold medal for their coverage.
That Disney has the breadth to cover the Olympics is obvious, given ABC and all the ESPN networks, in addition to its digital and mobile plays. And it also could use cable nets like ABC Family if need be. But its noticeable overall commitment to the World Cup has shown how it would handle an Olympics in two vital ways.
The first is financial. In addition to the rights fee, ESPN has spent a ton on doing the World Cup the right way. The $50,000-perperson price tag in T&E alone didn’t keep ESPN from sending a small army, including top talent like Mike Tirico and Bob Ley.
The second sign is the overall tone of the coverage. Absent has been the “ESPN-ification” that so many soccer fans were fearing. The tone has been one of reverence toward the magnitude of the event, both in games and ancillary programming.
The silly tone of shriek-fest Around the Horn and the bombastic nature of hosts like Jim Rome have been happily absent. Maddening personnel moves like Chris Berman on golf and the 2006 Dave O’Brien World Cup debacle are nonexistent. ESPN is treating the biggest sporting event in the world as it should be treated, and it’s a sign of how the network would handle the Olympics. Even its subtle cross-promotion of other ESPN events worked, such as using Andy Roddick and Serena Williams talking about the U.S. getting screwed by that ref against Slovenia as its way of sneaking in Wimbledon promos.
ESPN’s in-game commentary has been fantastic: The matches, as they should be, are the star of the show. That was expected with the quality of talent ESPN tapped, like Martin Tyler and Derek Rae. Longtime English soccer broadcaster Ian Darke has been the only playby- play man to insert himself too much into his calls, but nowhere near the degree that it could negatively affect the experience.
And yet for me, the most impressive aspect of the entire World Cup for ESPN remains the quality of its studio shows. I expected Ley to shine as he has, but the ever-solid Tirico has been even better than expected, looking like he’s been talking international soccer for years. And Chris Fowler has been surprisingly strong as well. On the analyst side, ESPN (and American fans) have learned that the biggest names don’t always make the best talent, as a guy you’ve never heard of named Roberto Martinez has proved to be far and away the best studio analyst.
Yes, there have been plenty of missteps and technical glitches, but that’s to be expected when you are doing a month-long event of such massive proportions. And as the rights holder to Major League Soccer games, ESPN could definitely be a better partner to the domestic league, as its promotion of the league has been sparse. A subtle example: ESPN should have highlighted the MLS ties of former coach Ruud Gullit and former MLS player Shaun Bartlett, both of whom are in-studio analysts.
But overall, if you are an Olympics fan—either a hard-core fan of one sport or a more casual observer of the spectacle as a whole—the World Cup has given you a window of what an ESPN Olympics would look like. And while NBC’s Olympics coverage is a standardbearer for all of sports on television, I am now entirely comfortable that if ESPN steps up and wins the bid, viewers will defi nitely not be the losers.
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ESPN has to "share" it with ABC. Olympics rights require broadcast coverage for a good portion of live event coverage. ESPN will also get a big portion of its ad revenue from the broadcast on ABC
Steve Smith - 7/12/2010 9:06:26 PM EDT
ESPN has destroyed sports on ABC. Clowns like Mike Tirico, Mike Breen, Stuart Scott and the rest make it unbearable to watch sports on ESPN or ABC. ESPN doesn't need to buy another property to destroy. Look at the NBA. It's presentation on television has been dumbed down and absolutely pathetic.
Somebody bring back ABC Sports.
PDoyle - 7/12/2010 7:54:12 PM EDT
If ESPN does win future Olympics, I don't think they would share them with ABC.
My guess is that the Olympics would become cable-exclusive, much like ESPN's recent acquisitions of the British Open golf tournament and college football's Bowl Championship Series.
Which would mean the International Olympic Commiteee (IOC) would have quite a quandry in the months to come: Accept an "eye-popping" ESPN bid that would make the Olympics cable-exclusive in the United States (while shutting-out one-fifth of the nation's TV homes from the Games), or accept a bid for much less money (likely from NBC/Unicversal/Comcast) that would keep the "major" events of future Olympics on broadcast television and available to every TV home in the country.
Joseph - 7/12/2010 4:42:28 PM EDT
it would be nice to see ESPN or even CBS acquire the olympics and bring some technical quality to the broadcasts.
NBC/GE is just too penny-pinching in its ways and the broadcast suffers.
ESPN would be nice as it would bring some cohesion to the grouping of events not having to schedule around Law and Order reruns and wrestling, etc
chad monroe - 7/12/2010 4:19:47 PM EDT
Get a clue. NBC has the rights the Olympics games - when they come on every 2 years. Not every track and field event that takes place in between each Olympics. So many viewers think that networks can just flip a switch and air something. You obviously don't work in this business. Why are you on this website?
Todd Gack - 7/12/2010 3:42:41 PM EDT
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