ESPN to Broadcast More 'Emotional Coverage' of 2015 Special Olympics Games in L.A.

John Skipper Special Olympics - H 2014
Courtesy of ESPN

John Skipper Special Olympics - H 2014

The sports network's president, John Skipper, told THR that "the story here is about the transformative nature of what these people overcome."

Following the phenomenal success of their World Cup coverage, ESPN will broadcast the Special Olympic Games in July 2015 when the event comes to Los Angeles.

More important than charting the gold medal winners, as with the Summer and Winter Games, the sports network will focus on the personal storylines surrounding the inspirational athletes who have intellectual disabilities. 

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"We are used to seeing an event where you really chronicle a story with what happened, a team winning the game or someone going down and scoring a touchdown," ESPN president John Skipper told The Hollywood Reporter at a breakfast reception to officially announce the partnership.

"The story here is the transformative nature of what these people have overcome. It is about them becoming the best, most complete person that they can. That matters here more than with other competitions, so this [coverage] is a little different," he explained. "It is not about strategy and analyzing and X's and O's or who won. It is about people's lives, so it will be more emotional. That's our mission here.

"We have a lot of people who are great storytellers, and that will be the highlight of the event," he added.

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ESPN has been involved with the Special Olympics for 30 years, but this will be the first time they have "covered the totality" of the Games before. "This has taken it to a different level within media," said Skipper.

While the specific broadcast plan will evolve over the next year, "I am sure we’ll do lots of hours across mobile, on the Internet, in the magazine and on television, so I hope you see a ton of coverage," he predicted. 

"For many of these athletes, it is their first visit to the United States, so to be here in L.A. and getting to the beach, the mountains and seeing the local community — it is a great way to see the culture."

As for that other little competition that drew in record-breaking viewers for ESPN over the past month down in Brazil: "We thought it would be that successful, but when it happens, you are still blown away," said Skipper, regarding the mammoth ratings of the World Cup that culminated in 26.5 million viewers watching the Germany vs. Argentina final.

"It was great, it was fun, kudos to Brazil — they pulled it off. There is always a lot of worry before a big event, but it worked."

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Competitions featured at the Special Olympic Games will include bocce ball, bowling, track and field, swimming, handball, cycling, equestrian, judo, gymnastics and basketball. "What is amazing is that at least 25 percent of the events are going to be unified sports, which is when athletes without disabilities compete alongside ones with disabilities," Russell Wolff, executive vp and managing director of ESPN international, tells THR. "When you see the bonds that get created between these athletes, it is going to take it to the next level."

Also speaking at the event were Patrick McClenahan, Special Olympic Games president and CEO; Debi Anderson, global messenger; and Michael Rouse, vp diversity, philanthropy and community affairs for Toyota, which is the main sponsor. 

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ESPN will broadcast the Games' opening and closing ceremonies, daily competition, nightly highlights and other cultural activities, according to a statement from the network.

The 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games will be the first held in the United States in 16 years. Los Angeles has previously hosted the Summer Olympic Games twice — in 1932 and 1984.

The Special Olympics, founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, offers "year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities," according to the organization's mission statement.