With ESPN’s comprehensive coverage of the FIFA presidential election underway, Front Row caught up with Andy Tennant, E:60 and Outside the Lines executive producer, who notes how the company’s years-long coverage of the global governing body has provided the foundation for how ESPN is approaching this week. Outside The Lines: FIFA In Crisis airs today (1:30 ET, ESPN), part of extensive daily coverage including Friday’s election proceedings.
In terms of content planning, how did you approach this week’s FIFA election?
Going back now for nearly a decade, we’ve been covering the issues at the heart of the matter when it comes to FIFA. For example, in 2011, Jeremy Schaap went to Bahrain and Oman for E:60 to investigate the alleged torture of Bahraini soccer stars and their subsequent banishment. That story is as relevant now as ever, with Sheikh Salman of the Bahraini royal family the odds-on favorite to win the presidential election, even amid accusations that he helped the government identify athletes it deemed disloyal to the regime.
In 2014, Schaap and E:60 went to Qatar to investigate the conditions there for migrant laborers, who were dying in droves as construction for the 2022 World Cup got underway. I think that story clearly helped shape perceptions of FIFA and in particular the decision to award the 2022 tournament to Qatar. It won the RFK Award for human rights reporting and has been widely cited — perhaps most memorably by John Oliver.
All of that earlier reporting — including an OTL story in 2006 about FIFA’s tepid response to racism in the game (Schaap interviewed Sepp Blatter for that story) — led us to the comprehensive show we put together last year, focusing on the rampant corruption in the game under Blatter’s watch. The show anticipated the arrests that would take place two weeks later, and the investigation of Blatter himself, which led to his resignation.
Our coverage of the election this week is informed by the work we’ve been doing for so long—and the unsurpassed expertise of our host, Bob Ley, who’s been covering the sport since the 1970s.
– Andy Tennant
In your opinion, what makes ESPN’s coverage stand out?
For starters, we are devoting a full week of Outside The Lines and E:60 to the intriguing storylines surrounding Friday’s election. At stake is the most powerful seat in global sports. There’s no question that with Ley anchoring our coverage from ESPN Studios in Bristol, and with Schaap and [ESPNFC columnist] Gab Marcotti reporting on the ground in Zurich, our team will give our audience the complete picture. They know the lay of the land as well as anyone, and are deeply familiar with the players and the process. Their expertise is deep and broad, which was clear to anyone watching last spring when we were covering the most recent FIFA congress and Sepp Blatter’s subsequent resignation.
What should viewers expect from ESPN’s coverage?
A showcase of feature stories on the rise and fall of Sepp Blatter, the FIFA Scandal and the controversy surrounding Sheikh Salman. Our viewers will be hearing from our soccer experts all week, on Outside the Lines, ESPNFC and SportsCenter, with news and analysis from in-house experts such as [analysts] Julie Foudy, Shaka Hislop, Jorge Ramos, Fernando Palomo and Taylor Twellman. We also look forward to welcoming World Cup Champion and former FIFA World Player of the Year Abby Wambach [as a guest] as well as former FIFA insider Guido Tognoni.
Then, beginning at 3:30 AM ET Friday, we will cover the election proceedings from Zurich live. It should be an historic day and all of our resources will be brought to bear to cover it.