SoccerWorld Cup

Setting up for ESPN’s World Cup coverage

ESPN’s FIFA World Cup studios in Brazil will be unveiled next Saturday, June 7, during coverage of the final U.S. Men’s National Team Send-Off Series match against Nigeria in Jacksonville (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Located at Clube dos Marimbas boating club at the tip of Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, the studios (see renderings above) will be used by ESPN’s domestic and international networks during the month-long tournament (June 12-July 13).

(l-r) Coordinating Director Scott Favalora, Noubar Stone and SVP/Executive Producer Jed Drake outside Clube dos Marimas in Rio (Photo credit: Jed Drake)
(l-r) Coordinating Director Scott Favalora, Noubar Stone and
SVP/Executive Producer Jed Drake outside Clube dos Marimas in Rio (Photo courtesy of Jed Drake)

One of the principal figures getting the facility ready is ESPN’s Noubar Stone, senior creative director. A veteran of past soccer events on ESPN – including the 2012 European Championships and 2013 Confederations Cup, Stone started at ABC in January 1980 and has been with ESPN since 1988.

The Corpus Christi, Texas, native spoke with Front Row about the Brazil studios and the work that has gone into getting everything ready during his six trips to the country over the past two-and-a-half years.

Describe the ESPN studios in Brazil and how the space will be used.
We have a domestic studio and an international studio. ESPN Brazil will be here at certain points as will some of our other networks. On the third floor of the club is the production floor of the set. Adjacent to that, there’s a room for stand-ups. It has Sugarloaf Mountain in the background. At the rescue station next door, we have a couple of stand-up positions. The two sets we have in the formal studio are roughly 2,000 square feet (1,400 for domestic, 600 for international). The domestic studio has two production areas – a main anchor area that features a curved display in front of the set with a large display over the main anchor’s shoulder. We have a couple of touch screens and another major production area that we are calling the “Last Call” set. This is a much more casual area for the end of the night with Copacabana Beach as the background.

How does Brazil compare to South Africa four years ago?
This is way more complex. In South Africa, we were in the grounds of the International Broadcast Center (IBC). The structure was essentially a rectangle. It was set apart from the control room in the IBC and we were maybe a quarter of a mile away. I showed up when the structure was done and the scenery was ready to go in.

This time – besides all the planning – we’re on a private club’s property. It’s maybe a half acre. We’re building not only the studio but we also have the build (with Claude Phipps and the remote production operations team) and the outfitting of three full control rooms – one for domestic, one for international and another for Good Morning America, which will have a regular presence.

This was all stuff that was done in a building four years ago. You had the contractor for FIFA overseeing it, making sure the power was there and everything was supposed to work. We’re doing all of that on our own – and while the club is still operating. The boats are still coming in and out. The fish are unloaded. People are walking up to the second floor to have their lunch and it’s in the middle of a construction site. It is the most complex project I’ve worked anywhere.

Describe the process of creating the actual set.
The people building the studio are a Brazilian company. They do Lollapalooza in Sao Paulo. They did the Pope’s visit to Brazil, several different locations for that. This is a custom-build. This isn’t a situation of just putting up a square structure. We actually did a complete build-out of the studio last October in Sao Paulo where the company is headquartered. This time, we are building it out for the event and it is 30 feet in the air. We’re maximizing every inch of space we can. There’s a lot of stuff they had to fabricate custom for this particular build.

With the World Cup almost here, what are you most excited about?
I have a picture of myself and Pele from 1980 walking in RFK Stadium during the final of what was then the North American Soccer League (NASL) championship. A guy just happened to take a picture on the sidelines and I was working with ABC at the time. He gave me the photo which I brought down with me in the hopes that Pele will be on our set and will sign it.

Noubar Stone (l), now ESPN’s senior creative director, cherishes this vintage 1980 photo of him and soccer legend Pele (r) at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Stone was working for ABC in its coverage of the NASL Championship that year. (Photo courtesy of Noubar Stone)
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