ESPN making big plans for World Cup

Net plotting largest promotional effort ever for single event

NEW YORK -- ESPN is pulling out all the stops for this summer's soccer World Cup in South Africa, making it the network's largest promotional effort ever for a single event.

At a Wednesday lunch event in midtown Manhattan, ESPN executives and on-air talent touted the importance of the extravaganza that takes place every four years.

"This will be a watershed moment because the commitment we are putting towards the presentation of this World Cup is unprecedented," Seth Ader, ESPN senior director of sports marketing, told THR. He didn't detail the marketing and promotional budget.

He expects ratings to improve over 2006's Cup in Germany but wouldn't give specific predictions.

"We know we'll do well," Ader told THR. "We'll improve on where we have been in the past. But the sky is the limit."

ESPN wants to ensure that the World Cup will dominate sports fans' discussions this summer by reaching core soccer fans and activating big-event sports fans, according to ESPN representatives.

ESPN brass on Wednesday showed various well-received clips and vignettes it is using to promote the World Cup and educate fans and casual viewers alike, among them three- to four-minute-long videos about players who have scored goals in World Cup finals.

The network has brought back the slogan "one game changes everything" in its promotional messages.

Adding some celebrity power, ESPN said Wednesday that it will feature U2 and South Africa's Soweto Gospel Choir in a series of spots that will be woven throughout the coverage of the Cup, which runs June 11-July 11.

ESPN's plans encompass more than 230 hours of live original HD programming, including all 64 matches on ESPN (44), ESPN2 (10) and ABC (10). Also, 54 matches will be streamed live at for fans without TVs in their office along with other mobile and online offerings.