As the Women's World Cup prepares to kick off this week, several factors come together to give the spectacle a real chance to shine on Fox—a team with a legitimate chance to win it all, a favorable time zone for the host nation and the growing popularity of the sport in the U.S., particularly among millennials. The Fox affiliates appreciate the network making a sizeable bet on elite-level soccer. “I honestly feel a good sense of excitement from people,” says Bill Lamb, president and general manager of WDRB Louisville. “I’m very excited that Fox has extended itself to find premium broadcast properties, and not take them to cable.”
Fox is of course splitting the spread of Cup games among its broadcast and cable networks, but it’s a full slate of action for the affiliated stations. Fox is helping with promos and with the compelling back stories of players that do so well to humanize them. While the level of interest varies from market to market, from big-time excitement to a blasé shrug of the shoulders, the station chiefs acknowledge that live event television is what tends to break through the entertainment clutter. Mark Metzger, VP and general manager of KLSR Eugene (Ore.), notes the growing lineup of sports, from college football to mixed martial arts, on Fox. “I love it,” he says. “Most of the time it’s DVR-proof and Netflix-proof.”
The action kicks off June 6 with host Canada facing Japan, while the U.S. pairs off with Australia June 8. Team USA and its supporters are hoping for a repeat of 1999, when the Americans defeated China in a heart-seizing, overtime final in front of 90,000 spectators, and a cadre of telegenic and athletically supernatural women—Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy—vaulted into the public consciousness. Some among the current group of players may also end up household names in the next month.
America, being America and all, loves a winner. “You wrap a global athletic event with the flag—Team USA vs. the World—and that’s when games start to go viral,” says Jude LaCava, lead sports anchor on KSAZ Phoenix. “This particular event has that potential.”
To be sure, some Americans continue to see soccer as a painfully low-scoring snoozefest better suited to the British notion of entertainment. One station GM who asked not to be named said viewer interest will be adequate for matches involving the U.S. but not for an early-round game featuring, say, Ecuador versus Cameroon. “They’d probably prefer to watch Dr. Phil,” he says.
But in strong sports communities—particularly markets where soccer is a big deal, such as the Pacific Northwest—excitement is building. While it’s mostly about LeBron and the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals these days, Tony D’Angelo, GM of WSYX Columbus, cites the “great soccer community” in his market; soccer-specific Mapfre Stadium hosts well-attended international matches. “We’re real excited to have [the World Cup],” he says. “I believe it will do well here.”
The same goes for Seattle, where an MSL match featuring the Sounders was No. 2 in primetime one night last week on Tribune’s KZJO, trailing only the NBA playoffs. KCPQ is planning a live satellite interview during the Cup on its morning news with Heather Mitts, a former national teamer. With the finals in Vancouver, it “makes it almost a local event,” says KCPQ Pam Pearson, VP and general manager.
Several players bring compelling story lines to the Cup—decorated veteran Abby Wambach giving it one more go on the global stage; Hope Solo and her acrobatic saves and ignominious brushes with the law; Sydney Leroux, the Canadian-born sharpshooter who has elected to play for the U.S.. (With 241,000 Twitter followers, Leroux, like several teammates, knows her way around social media.)
Some stations are getting considerable interest from advertisers looking to pair up with the Cup action. D’Angelo says he’s “very happy with the interest shown by marketers,” including car dealers. “It’s far exceeded expectations.”
In Los Angeles, Kevin Hale, KTTV VP and general manager, describes a “tremendous” amount of activity on the sales side. “They see what we all see—a sense that the nation is really interested in soccer right now.”
Of course, a lackluster performance by the U.S. team in Canada would be a bust for Fox and its partner stations. “They gotta win, they gotta go deep, they gotta be dynamic,” says KSAZ anchor LaCava. “They’re attractive young ladies with a ton of charisma. If they win, they become the darlings of America.”
WPIX SCORES HIP BROOKLYN HOME
WPIX now has a flashy new pad in New York’s hottest borough, as the Tribune station has opened a studio at the Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn. WPIX cut the ribbon on the 1,000-plus-square-foot space a few weeks back and plans to have regular reports in its newscasts from the Brooklyn bureau in early June.
The plan was hatched a few years ago, says Rich Graziano, WPIX president and general manager, when he was discussing “strategic options” with Peter Liguori, Tribune Media president and CEO, and Larry Wert, president of broadcast media. “We were looking into how to position PIX in an innovative way,” he says.
Besides being a cultural nexus, Brooklyn, with some 2.6 million residents, is larger than nearly every DMA in the U.S. “We decided having a presence in Brooklyn is important,” says Graziano. “What better way than with a street-front studio on Flatbush Avenue?”
It’s a multiyear lease deal between Barclays and WPIX; Graziano calls it a “nice investment,” withoutoffering specifics. The Brooklyn outpost gives WPIX a front-row seat for stories happening both inside and outside the arena. “The goal is to offer rich reporting in the community,” says Graziano.