ESPN Conference Call Transcript: 2014 FIFA World Cup Final Preview

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ESPN Conference Call Transcript: 2014 FIFA World Cup Final Preview

ESPN conducted a media conference call on Thursday with Senior Vice President and Executive Producer Jed Drake, lead soccer play-by-play voice Ian Darke, studio host Bob Ley, and analysts Steve McManaman and Alexi Lalas to preview the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final. The Argentina vs. Germany match will be played at Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Sunday, July 13, at 3 p.m. ET on ABC (coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET). Full audio replay; Transcript:

JED DRAKE:  Good morning to all of you.  We appreciate you folks taking the time to get on the call with us and to allow us to give you our thoughts on our coverage of the tournament thus far and then moving into the final weekend. I think it goes without saying that we’re enormously proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish here at this 2014 FIFA World Cup.  We had some very ambitious plans that we detailed for all of you going into this, and I’m pleased to say that in virtually all cases our plans have been executed to the extent that we would have liked.

And then along the way, we’ve had a tremendous tournament itself.  The story lines that have unfolded have been remarkable.  The level of play has been tremendous, and I know our announcers will speak to that in a moment. From a production perspective, we set out to do some things that we had not done before, and those have come to fruition in ways that have been very successful.  I refer, of course, to the Last Call set, to the Men in Blazers, and to the overall camaraderie that we’ve been able to achieve with this great, great group of commentators that we’ve put together both in the studio and at the matches.

So in summary, we’ve done some very good work here.  We obviously have the most important match yet to come, but needless to say, we’re quite confident that we will be able to carry on with the same level of production value and dedication to this event that we love dearly, and when we are done on Sunday, we will look forward to taking a moment of pause and looking back on our accomplishments.  But right now we’ve just got to keep our focus square on Saturday for the third place match and on Sunday for obviously the final, and then all of the content that will flow in and around that final match. It’s going to be a very long and aggressive day, but one that we are very well prepared for, and we look forward to bringing that coverage to you.

IAN DARKE:  Well, I think we’ve got an exciting final between two of the powerhouses of world football at the end of it, but I think it’s been a brilliant tournament, arguably the greatest World Cup of the whole modern era.  Other people have their own ideas about it.  And as usual, it’s been full of surprises starting on the second day with the world champion Spain being hammered 5‑1 by the Netherlands.

And I think that set the tone for what we were about to witness.  We’ve been surprised by teams like Costa Rica; who’d have thought they’d reach the quarterfinals?  Chile — that was an amazing game that I was at, at Maracanã when the Chileans took over the whole place, including the media room, which they stormed as you’ll remember on that occasion. And Spain were knocked out, the end of their era, the end of a great team.

The game has evolved, as well, and my overriding thought is it’s great to see the way that the game has developed.  I think the tiki‑taka style of Spain has had its day, and what we’ve seen here is the accent on power, space, high pressing, and hellfire‑type counterattacking football, and for the most part it’s been pretty dramatic and breathtaking to watch, so long may that continue. I hope beyond hope that what we have on Sunday is, particularly after the very disappointing game four years ago in the final, that we have a real showpiece between these two famous footballing nations.

STEVE McMANAMAN:  Well, I think that the two best teams have got through.  I think if you look at all the knockout phases at the group stages, all the best teams in the game, whether it be on penalties or whether it is last‑minute goals, … I think the Germans are without a doubt a team that’s been strong (inaudible) very professional.  They’ve looked organized, and they’re in the right place.

Argentina in the last couple of games …made sure they didn’t lose the game.  They weren’t as exciting as a team … very professional in getting the job done, and they got the result yesterday on penalties, although it wasn’t a great game yesterday … like Ian said, I hope that the final is better than it was four years ago.  I hope that … it’s a wonderful final … as Ian said, two great powerhouses of international football, and it should be a great game. For me the overriding factor is the two best teams have rightly made it to the final, and it should be an interesting final.

BOB LEY:  I think Ian and Macca have covered the football, but I can recall being here two years ago and the questions of: whether Brazil could organize a tournament; whether they would be ready; how it would be received; what would be the echoes of last June’s demonstrations; and they have organized a tournament, and they have done it extremely well.

But I think one of the great stories that we’ve seen that has developed in just the last week, here in the heart of football, and we’ve had this front row seat for the great love this nation has, and what happened against Germany is something that will reverberate perhaps again for the next 64 years.  And it’s not done, because the greatest Brazilian nightmare is at hand, which is the Argentines are here to play at Maracanã and possibly walk out with a trophy.  I think it’s one of the great dramatic emotional stories in sport, not just what happened the other night when Germany did what they did to Brazil, but now the Brazilians must sit and hope and pray and root for Germany.

I think it’s an astonishing spectacle, and we have a front row seat, and yes, the football has been tremendous.  It’s been the most entertaining Cup in my memory, and I think the other stories we’ve been telling, I think the best one is at hand if Argentina prevailed here in the tabernacle of Samba Football.

ALEXI LALAS:  I echo what everyone said.  For me this is the greatest World Cup I’ve ever seen in terms of the individual play, the results, the drama, the theater on- and off-the-field, the content for us to talk about on a daily basis.  Just when we think we’ve seen it all, something else happens from an entertainment perspective.  There’s always something that seems to be going on, and it just continued. The dramatics that we have seen in the games, the individual brilliance in terms of some of the goals scored, the historic results that we have seen, I think that even as we get farther away from this, it will become more and more apparent that this was an absolutely magical month in terms of what we saw on- and off-the-field, and also the biggest star that didn’t kick a ball with Brazil and how this country grew through this tournament, the tears and all of that.

I’m excited for this final, too, because the only thing that could possibly be worse for Brazil is to have Argentina come into Maracanã and win a World Cup here in Brazil, and obviously all of that playing out. Germany being the first European team to win in the Americas, and to cap off this incredible transformation over the last eight, 10, 12 years that they have made with the ultimate German-type of exclamation point, which is win it, and having that World Cup and having all these changes result in the final part of the equation. Just fascinating to see what’s going to happen this Sunday, but when you look back this last month, there’s just so much to celebrate and to just be astonished and grateful for.

Q.  Five hours on Sunday is a pretty big block, one of the longest that I can remember for a single World Cup broadcast.  Obviously somewhere between two and three of them will be filled up by the game, but how do you fill the rest?  And who’s going to be on air Sunday at the game and in the studio, and might we see any kind of retrospective on this 20‑year era of broadcasting the World Cup that you guys have had?

JED DRAKE:  Okay, I’ll start with the last question first.  The answer is … you’ll see a retrospective.  The answer to the prior question is everybody is in play on Sunday:  Ian and Macca will be calling the match, Jeremy [Schaap] will be at Maracanã, and everybody is in play. And as to the five‑hour window, I wish I had six.  We’ve been here quite a long time.  We have great stories to tell.  Wright Thompson is going to take part in our coverage, as well, and I suspect based upon our ratings and the length of time from our viewers that they will arrive early and that they will enjoy our coverage up to the match and then after the match where we have post‑match on ABC, and then of course we’re not done there.  We go right over to ESPN2, where we’ve got World Cup Tonight.

You know, it’s just another broadcast day.  I think when it’s all said and done, between SportsCenter, World Cup Tonight, the big window on ABC, we’ll probably do about 10 hours of television, somewhere around there, but that’s not ‑‑ that’s really not extreme when you think about what we did through the group stage.  That was an average day in the group stage.  We’re well‑tested, and we’re ready to go.

Q.  You touched on this earlier, but what kind of stories have you seen going on in Brazil that maybe don’t lend themselves to be reported on in this coverage, but will make for more Outside the Lines material once you get back?

BOB LEY:  Well, I think we’ve seen already, I mean, the questions of how this money was spent.  That’s part of a popular discontent last summer, or winter down here, and as I said on the air the other night as the president of Brazil rushed very quickly to issue a series of four Tweets following Brazil 1, Germany 7 — and we’ve said this in our reporting back in March — that the outcome of the World Cup will have an effect on the Brazilian presidential election.  I mean those things are very much intertwined.  To be the head of the federation in Brazil is to be the second ‑‑ the football federation is to be the second most important person in this country.  There’s that.

There’s the question of why there weren’t demonstrations in the street, and part of that is the fact that they flooded the zone with security, and the football was so good. There’s a story that has been percolating around a ticket story here with Match, the company that’s affiliated with FIFA, and the arrests that have been made.  That’s always something that’s worth exploration.  Within the scope of game coverage we are limited somewhat to how much off‑the‑pitch we can get. But this is a target‑rich environment, and it has been, and I would look forward to coming back to do some of that.

Q.  If you could talk about Lionel Messi.  He wants to finally end the discussion of is he one of the world’s greats.  Everyone sort of feels like he needs the World Cup trophy to match Maradona and all that, so can you talk about the enormity of the pressure on him entering this game, and does he have to play great, or does he just have to have a trophy at the end of the game?

ALEXI LALAS:  I think he has to have a good game, but I think ultimately that’s a temporary type of thing.  I think if he has that World Cup trophy ‑‑ I mean, look, the inevitable compare and contrast because he’s Argentinian, he’s left footed, he’s diminutive, all of that is going to happen.  We know that.  There’s no way he can ever be Diego Maradona from a personal perspective given what Maradona has meant, the man of the people and all that kind of stuff.  So from that compare and contrast, it’s never going to happen.

But from being the best player ever to play the game, I think if Messi is going to help lead this team to the World Cup and win it, and not just win it but win it in Maracanã in Brazil, he would have to be considered, as far as I’m concerned, the best player ever to play the game with what he has done. And I do think that he needs that when you do this compare and contrast, and so that’s, once again, the incredible pressure that he’s played under.  Does it weigh on him?  I think it does to a certain extent, because it’s never going to go away, but if he has this final box checked off, it opens up a whole ‘nother wonderful world of this constant debate. But as far as I’m concerned, he is definitely one of the greatest players ever to play the game, if not the greatest player ever to play the game if he wins this World Cup.

STEVE McMANAMAN: I certainly don’t necessarily think he needs to win the World Cup to be considered the greater player than Maradona.  He’s already the greatest player around.  …  I think the only thing that is distinct between Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi is probably the character of both of the players.  Messi seems to be a very humble guy.  … of course he went to Spain as a young boy, so all the Argentines feel that he talks Spanish (inaudible) Argentina.  Of course with Diego Maradona he’s always had this flawless, and I think the Argentinian people like that.  I think they like the fact that he’s very expressive.  …  They like the fact that he’s got this mean streak in him.  That’s why they love him so much. …  I think if he wins the World Cup, as Alexi said, it’s the icing on the cake and he can be nicknamed the Messiah and the comparison with Diego Maradona will stop ….

IAN DARKE:  The only thing I’d add to all of that is this:  I think Steve’s right; I think Lionel Messi’s legacy is already secure.  He’s been World Player of the Year four times; he’s broken all kinds of records.  We know he’s a great player.  I think this would just be the final gloss of paint, if you like, on a wonderful reputation. And the other thing I’d just add is this week sadly we had the death of a wonderful player call Alfredo Di Stéfano, who somehow fate inspired, he would never actually play in a World Cup for all kinds of weird reasons.  He never did get to play. But nobody is saying when he died this week at the age of 88. Nobody was saying that he was not one of the greatest players ever to play the game because he didn’t win a World Cup. But I suppose in Argentina, Messi maybe needs this to just move himself alongside Diego Maradona, who almost won it single‑handedly in 1986.

Q.  This is going to be ESPN’s last World Cup coverage for a minimum of 12 years, unfortunately, and I was wondering what you want this lasting legacy to be.  What do you want people to remember about ESPN’s World Cup coverage?

JED DRAKE:  I think the big thing for me, and I suspect for all of us, is that we decided that we were not going to allow our country to be less than enthusiastic on a national basis about this event, and we set out to make that change after 2006, and for all of you that saw what we did in 2010 in South Africa, we said that we had finally changed the culture in the United States and helped the general population understand what the rest of the world knew, which is that this event is the biggest sporting event on the planet, and that it means so much to so many people around the world, billions of them. We did that in 2010, and what we said we were going to do here is that we were going to continue that and recognize some of the inherent things that came to play for us in our favor, like the time zone and this growing interest in the U.S. team.

With those opportunities we’ve shown what an immense event this can be, and our ratings have borne that out. But as to ESPN, I think we’re most pleased with the overall presentation being what we wanted it to be.  It was an incredible challenge, and it was a very ambitious plan, but we’ve executed on that, and we will leave a legacy now on this event that I believe will be very difficult to go past for quite some time.  We love this event.  We wish FOX well, but we have in no small way recognized our opportunity is to do the very best we can on this event with the collateral effect being that we’re leaving the bar very high for FOX, and that was always part of our thinking. I think with two matches to go, I think we’ve achieved that, and that will be our legacy.

Now, that said, I did say along the way that we intended to make 2010 look like the warmup act, and I think we’ve done that.  But there is an encore now, and that encore is in 2016.  It’s the European Championships.  So we will come back after we take a pause and focus on that event, and we intend to ‑- said with a smile on my face after being here for 48 days or whatever the number is ‑- we will hit that one with as much enthusiasm and determination as possible. We’re not done just yet.

BOB LEY:  Just that all of us, I think, left South Africa in 2010 with an incredible sense of pride in how we were able to present the story of the tournament, and as Jed said, change the culture of appreciating soccer in the United States, and the question was raised, well, geez, could Brazil be any better, and having worked ‑‑ this is my seventh World Cup all told, my fourth overseas, and this has surpassed, I think, with the level of effort, the stories we’ve told, the staff we’ve assembled, we could not do this, I’m sure Jed has said this prior by now, that without ESPN Brazil here, who have laid a foundation for us to be able to do the work in this country.

But we’ve turned this from a sporting event into a cultural event, and I think our network was uniquely positioned to do that because I think there are a lot of networks have viewers, but ours has fans, and I think we’re unique.  We’ve been fortunate to have that special place, I think, in the conscience and in the hearts of sports fans, and I think we’ve been able to take that position and work from there to turn crowds at Soldier Field out to watch the national teams, numbers of them daily, they hit our smartphones and we open an email and say, my gosh.

Strangely, we’re on the bubble here.  We talked about this at the bar the other night, and there’s a significant portion of each one of us that would love to have been home for some of this, not just to see our families certainly, but to be part of what was happening back home because we only hear about it anecdotally.  Strangely to those of us here, we’re missing one of the greatest parts of the tournament which was enjoying it with other Americans.  But I’ve been at the network for 35 years, and I’ve never been prouder to be part of any project than I have been to be a part of all these World Cup productions.

FastScripts by ASAP Sports

ESPN’s 2014 FIFA World Cup Final Weekend Schedule:

ESPN’s coverage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil will conclude this weekend with the Third Place and Final matches.  Lead play-by-play commentator Ian Darke and Steve McManaman will call the Germany vs. Argentina final with reporter Jeremy Schaap.  The match will be broadcast from Rio de Janeiro on ABC and WATCH ABC on Sunday, July 13, at 3 p.m. ET. JP Dellacamera and Tommy Smyth will call the action for ESPN Radio. FIFA World Cup Matchday will precede the game at 1 p.m.

On Saturday, July 12, host nation Brazil will look for redemption after a stunning 7-1 loss to Germany, as it faces the Netherlands at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN.  Jon Champion and Stewart Robson will describe the match from Brasilia, while Ross Dyer and Shep Messing have the call for ESPN Radio. The match will also be available on ESPN3 and WatchESPN. 2014 FIFA World Cup Media Kit

Closing the weekend of soccer, ESPN2 will showcase a Cascadia Cup matchup in the MLS Game of the Week: Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers, Sunday at 10 p.m.

Date Time (ET) Network Matchup Site
Sat, Jul 12 3 p.m. ESPN 2014 FIFA World Cup Third Place Match
Brazil vs. Netherlands
Sun, Jul 13 1 p.m. ABC 2014 FIFA World Cup Final
Germany vs. Argentina
Rio de Janeiro
  10 p.m. ESPN2 MLS: Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers

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Tara Chozet

I handle PR for ESPN Radio, espnW, technology, remote operations and soccer. I received my undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College and my Master’s degree from the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.
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