[SOCCER ON THE AIR]In a media conference call on Thursday, Jed Drake, ESPN’s executive producer for the World Cup, said favorable kickoff times, extending into prime time on the East Coast, not to mention a growing soccer fan base, make it a foregone conclusion that television ratings should improve over the record ratings of four years ago.
Brazilian time zones are almost identical to the East Coast and though kickoff times have been pushed up to accommodate European television, they work out well, Drake says, for the group stage.
"The matches on the East Coast are at 12:00, 3:00, and 6:00 primarily on those days that there are three matches," he said. "That's great. That means the third match of the day is going to end up in the prime time on the East Coast. So I mean, just from that perspective, we should have ratings candidly that will improve over 2010. It's a foregone conclusion that the ratings should improve because of the time zones.
Beyond that, Drake acknowledged that how the USA does will impact the ratings but ESPN isn't hanging its hopes on its success in the group stage from which few give it a chance to advance.
"We did not do so in 2010," he said, "and the ratings, even when the U.S. went out, proved that the event itself is much bigger than just the success or lack thereof for the U.S. team."
Drake says 2010 was a milestone in American soccer, ending the indifference the country as a whole had with soccer.
"We fundamentally changed that in 2010," he said. "We did so through I think a production approach and marketing approach that made people understand how important this event is on the rest of the planet. By doing that, we created this understanding of just how important this event is. Now, I think, that has certainly carried through from 2010 in terms of soccer in general in the United States. But for this event, it does transcend soccer. This is a global event that people, I believe now, even in the United States, will tune into because of the sheer scope and magnitude of it. For now, 31 days, it is my hope that people truly do alter their lifestyle just to be able to watch this event in whatever form they can watch it on, whether it's on television, on a tablet, whether it's on the phone, whether it's on the radio, that they do that because that is the beauty of this event. That for four years, people can, in essence, put their lives aside and focus on the event for the sheer spectacle and enjoyment of it. That's what we did in 2010, and that is certainly our goal in 2014."
Drake said ESPN changed its approach in 2010 to focus on the knowledgeable soccer fan, and he said that audience has grown since then.
"So we'll continue down this path," he added, "because we do believe that for the soccer fan, we have that responsibility. But we also recognize, and 2010 bore this out, that the casual viewer will come to this event just for the sheer spectacle of it, and when they do, they will become enamored with it, and they'll begin to understand what is being said by our commentators."