Editor’s note: Tuesday, ESPN and most other television outlets are presenting their best wares for the media and major advertisers at the Upfront in New York City. The women’s soccer documentary series Heroics is among the ESPN initiatives being introduced.
When ESPN executives Juan Alfonso and Laura Gentile first discussed the concept of a 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup project in the summer of 2010 over a cup of coffee, both instantly thought about inspirational stories that would capture the challenges while celebrating the successes of women in soccer.
They were also drawn to universal stories that would cut across national and cultural boundaries, that viewers could enjoy and relate to.
Alfonso, who had just added a new international programming content development unit to his portfolio, eyed the Women’s World Cup as a global event with a story that needed to be told. Gentile, deep in the planning to launch espnW, was mulling how to create the best stories about women and soccer tied to Germany 2011 that would differentiate and add value to the ESPN digital hub for female athletes and fans.
“After several conversations, we landed on the idea of creating an original series of short documentaries and to have these stories told by women directors,” said Alfonso, ESPN vice president, international marketing and programming development.
The result is HERoics, a series of six short documentaries chronicling women’s courage, perseverance, breaking through barriers, failure and eventual redemption, announced Tuesday in New York City.
The short films, an ESPN global content development project, will live on espnW’s website, the company’s first dedicated content and digital hub designed to serve, inform and inspire female athletes and fans, beginning Saturday, June 25 — the eve of the Women’s World Cup.
The short films will offer in-depth profiles of FIFA Women’s World Cup players Marta (Brazil), Kelly Smith (England), and Lisa De Vanna (Australia); and highlight unique stories about a group of grandmothers and senior citizens on a team in Jerez, Spain, who continue to play into their 70s and 80s; a woman referee in the Republic of Congo who earned accolades from FIFA while working through the stress of abuse from fans; and a probation officer who uses soccer to steer troubled teens away from gangs in Central California.
A multimedia content initiative, HERoics will debut on television in the United States as a one-hour program on ESPN2 Saturday, June 25, at 7 p.m. ET, the same day it goes live on espnW. The series will air on ABC in the middle of the Women’s World Cup on Saturday, July 2, at 4 p.m.
SportsCenter anchor Hannah Storm, director of the HERoics profile of Kelly Smith, will be the host for both one-hour programs. (Air dates on ESPN International networks are TBD.)
The series will mirror the award-winning ESPN 30 for 30 documentary series. It extends the company’s commitment to long-form storytelling on the U.S. and International networks.
Each short film will feature a different director. ESPN is collaborating with six different documentary filmmakers — all women — from diverse cultural backgrounds and countries, and from various genres of television and film storytelling.
“We reached out to our contacts in and outside the United States and asked them to pitch us their ideas,” said Alfonso.
“The response was overwhelmingly positive. We looked for the ability to tell a complex, emotional story in an eight-minute format — something that’s pretty hard to do.”
Storm produced Unmatched, the critically acclaimed one-hour 30 for 30 documentary about the rivalry and friendship between tennis greats Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, and is also one of HERoics six directors.
“Kelly Smith is known for helping to put English women’s soccer on the map, but there is a side of her story that she tells in HERoics for the very first time — her private battle with alcoholism and her fight back from the depths to become of one of premiere players in the world,” said Storm. “It’s a poignant and heartfelt film that I hope other young women will find inspirational.”
The Films and Directors:
Dois Riachos to Umeå (Adriana Yanez)
A profile of Brazil’s Marta Vieira da Silva, simply known as Marta, who has transcended her humble beginnings to become one of her country’s legendary one-name soccer stars. She is the current and record five-straight FIFA Player of the Year, a distinction no other male or female player has ever achieved.
El Chiquitín Fútbol Club (Sara Lozano)
In Spain, home of the FIFA World Cup champions and reigning European champions, arcane laws and old mores still pose strong barriers against women who seek to play the sport. Since 1995, the El Chiquitín Fútbol Club players, grandmothers and senior citizens in the old town of Jerez, suit up in the locker room, talk trash and play hard for their coach.
Kelly Smith (Hannah Storm)
A look at how the greatest female soccer player ever in the country that invented the sport has overcome her drinking problem and is poised to lead England to its best Women’s World Cup run ever.
The Save (Amanda Micheli)
Gina Castañeda, a deputy probation officer in Watsonville, Calif., is best known for coaching youth soccer to steer her players away from the rising gang turf wars among the largely Hispanic, immigrant population in her community.
L’ Arbitre (Ruhi Hamid)
Marie Agnès Makengi Kapinga, otherwise known as Mere Malou, was the first international female soccer referee in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In a 15-year refereeing career with numerous accolades from FIFA and CAF, Marie Agnès endured physical and verbal abuse from fans, but remains dedicated to passing the torch on to present and future generations of female referees.
Lisa De Vanna (Safina Oberoi)
Arguably one of Australia’s best female players, Lisa De Vanna is also the Matildas’ most troublesome — prone to fights with her teammates and opposing players. As the Matildas prepare for the Women’s World Cup, the tempestuous but generous player is set for a showcase on the sport’s biggest stage, or perhaps, a meltdown.