ESPN turn back the clock for 12-hour coverage

Cup final breakfast, the players leaving their hotels – the Disney-owned station will revive a grand tradition

"Their name is on it," is a phrase often used at this time of year by football fans predicting the winner of the world's greatest domestic club knock-out competition, the FA Cup.

"Wonga" – rather than Manchester City or Stoke City – is not the name you would expect to be on the lips of every fan, but the money-lending website will have its brand stamped all over tomorrow's final thanks to a sponsorship deal with ESPN that aims to restore the showcase as one of the television events of the year.

The sponsor and broadcaster have hatched a deal that will mean ESPN can show the game commercial-free, from kick-off through to the lifting of the trophy, a key point of difference from ITV, the other network with rights to the match. It will also underpin a 12-hour day of coverage on ESPN in an attempt to emulate the long build-up that the Cup final was afforded in a less frenetic media era.

It will be Disney-owned ESPN's first Cup final broadcast in Britain and, like a breathless young fan, it will be at Wembley from 8am. After the demise of Setanta, ESPN looks ready to make a better fist of challenging BSkyB as the dominant broadcaster in British sport.

Although it only had one pack of 23 Premier League games this season (compared to Sky's five) it plans to bid for a greater share at the next auction in 2012. Ross Hair, the Briton newly-appointed to head its operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, has ambitions to get a foothold in cricket and does not rule out ESPN bringing its Sports Centre news channel to the UK as a competitor to Sky Sports News.

Hair will be at Wembley tomorrow as will the ESPN anchor Ray Stubbs and a punditry team that includes former Manchester City managers Kevin Keegan and Joe Royle alongside Robbie Savage, who was this week given a Sony award for his broadcasting on Radio 5 Live. "We feel it will be a much more immersive environment than ITV," said Hair. "We do look at things differently to other broadcasters and content providers. We look to do things from the fan's perspective."

He reminisced about Cup final broadcasting of old, when the players were shown being fitted for their suits and then exchanging banter on the coach trip from the team hotel. "When I was a kid I used to love that game around the game when you got to know some of the personalities and some of the characters that had put the event together as well as the expectancy of a great game of football," he said. "I think that's something we are looking to recapture."

The Superbowl, when 30 second advertising slots were being sold for $3 million apiece, showed the ability of televised sport to draw a mass audience (111m viewers watched the game on Fox TV). But ESPN has chosen to give ITV a free run and forego commercial revenue in the hope of showing its commitment.

Unlike Setanta, ESPN can draw on its vast experience as a sports broadcaster in America, where networks enjoy considerable access to players. At the Cup final it will have a pitch-side desk and access to the dressing rooms before and after the game.

Hair said the romance of the FA Cup makes it a unique sporting event. The broadcaster has been lucky in the games it has picked in earlier rounds, choosing the giant-killing performances of FC United (conquerors of Rochdale) and Stevenage Borough (who beat Newcastle). It also showed Orient's heroics in holding Arsenal.

In the close season ESPN will be showing the Copa America tournament from South America and the Arsenal-hosted Emirates Cup. Its football offering extends to the Italian, German, Dutch and Russian leagues and it shows Premier League goals via a £1.79 application, shortly after the final whistle. "You can get all the goals on your mobile phone five hours before Match of the Day," said Hair.

He joined ESPN from Sony Pictures but formerly worked for the company as director of strategic planning in Asia, where he saw "how powerful cricket is as a sport". ESPN already owns the cricket website Cricinfo, which is hugely popular in the Indian subcontinent and was generating 6m users a day during the recent World Cup, and Hair is anxious that the network secures some coverage. It also owns the rugby site ESPN Scrum and will culminate a season of televising the Aviva Premiership final on 28 May.

Hair described ESPN's relationship with Sky as "complex". The Disney broadcaster will be providing 3D coverage of the FA Cup final which will be hosted on Sky's 3D channel. For the Cup final, that's a first.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital