Soccer Docs Score for History Channel Around the World

Cristiano Ronaldo
Courtesy of History Channel

In an unprecedented global move, History has programmed the 'History of Football,' two solid weeks of soccer-themed shows that air simultaneously in 160 countries worldwide.

Call it Shark Week for soccer.

In an unprecedented move, History Channel has blocked off two solid weeks of programming, running soccer-themed content 24/7 between May 28 to June 10 on all its History channels around the world, some 160 countries in total. Branded The History of Football, it's the sports equivalent to Discovery Channel's Shark Week, when everything on the network revolves around makos, hammerheads and great whites.

At the halfway mark, History execs are already scoring the event a win and planning more such global “roadblock” plays for the future.

“We are still compiling ratings and audience engagement, but it's not too early to call History of Football a success and to say we'll do this kind of thing again,” Patrick Vien, executive managing director, international at History Channel parent A+E Networks told The Hollywood Reporter. Vien pointed to some global ratings highlights of the event so far: The History Channel in South Korea grabbed the No. 1 spot as top pay-TV network in the territory during its History of Football coverage; average ratings for the channel jumped 30 percent in the U.K., 50 percent for Spain and an astounding 311 percent in Singapore.

“In a television world that is so noisy and so competitive, with so much content out there, we are proud to be able to garner such huge viewership around this,” added Sean Cohan, president, international and digital media at A+E.

To mix sports metaphors, The History of Football event was a big swing for the channel, which is better known for war documentaries than sports coverage. The two-week roadblock involved commissioning more than 40 hours of programming, around half produced in-house. Vien brought a team of “literally hundreds” of History Channel production and marketing executives from around the world together in New York last February to plan the event, which rolled out May 28 worldwide and runs through June 10, just ahead of the kickoff for the 2018 World Cup in Russia on June 14.

By timing the History of Football just before the World Cup, History hopes to benefit from extensive news and sports coverage of the tournament in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

“We wanted to take advantage of this global cultural event, when people around the world, literally billions of people, are thinking and talking about the sport of football and quench the thirst for the world cup before the matches start,” said Vien.

History's soccer programming includes several global documentary series, among them Football's Greatest Moments, a five-part series chronicling the teams and players who have left an indelible mark on World Cup history, from Brazilian superstar Pele and Argentine bad boy Diego Maradona to the “three Musketeers”: Real Madrid teammates Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham, who competed against one another in the 1998 World Cup in France. The five-part Football Godfathers series looks at the stars on the touchline, documenting five of the globe's most acclaimed coaches, including Holland's Louis Van Gaal, Italian manager Claudio Ranieri and the much maligned, but also revered, English coach Roy Hodgson.

History also commissioned numerous local docs, including an Argentine-produced profile of star Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest living soccer player, and a Japanese co-production, The History of Japanese Football, which bills itself as the first-ever documentary on the subject. The History Channel also commissioned a array of short videos, targeting both local and global audiences, on such wide-ranging subjects as the origin of the ball to the greatest rivalries in African football to a mini-profile on Jawahir Jewels, the only female ethnic Muslim working as professional soccer referee in England.

As part of its marketing campaign, History brought in several stars of the game, including Spanish 2010 world cup winner David Villa, currently captain of New York City FC, who acted as the global spokesperson for the event. Local talents who promoted The History of Football internationally included Japanese stars Yasuhiko Okudera and Kunishige Kamamoto, Spanish Real Madrid legend Fernando Morientes Sanchez, ex-Juventus and Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli and former England captain and British TV personality Gary Linekar.

Cohan said he hoped the two weeks of non-stop soccer programming would “invite new viewers to the History brand” who didn't associate the channel with sports. He added that more sports-related programming could be in the cards for the network. But the History of Football roadblocking model could be used for a wide variety of different cultural and historic events, Cohan noted, not just soccer or sports.

“Whether it's the World Cup or military showdowns in history or controversies in Europe or Asia, we want to position the History Channel brand as the one that offers a deeper, historic context to what people are talking about," he said.

The History of Football event runs through June 10 on the History Channel worldwide