World Cup

One month from World Cup kickoff, ESPN’s preparations in Brazil continue apace

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ESPN’s Claude Phipps arrived in Rio de Janeiro on April 28 and will remain there until July 22, well after the conclusion of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

“I’m going to be a native Brazilian by the time I’m finished,” he quipped. As director for remote production operations, Phipps is the man on the ground for all the technical aspects of ESPN’s World Cup operation.

In Rio, Phipps, who was on ABC’s broadcast operations team for the Los Angeles (1984) and Calgary (1988) Olympic Games, is currently overseeing the technical and infrastructural build-out for ESPN’s five-week presentation of the World Cup in Brazil, shuttling through two constructions – the host studio set at Clube dos Marimbas, a members-only sailing club overlooking Copacabana beach, and at the International Broadcast Center (IBC).

ESPN announces MLS, USNT pact; ESPN FC counts down to World Cup

Today, ESPN announced it has reached a comprehensive multimedia agreement with Soccer United Marketing (SUM) for the rights to Major League Soccer and U.S. National Team matches through 2022. The eight-year agreement includes rights to FIFA World Cup qualifying matches.

Also, this week ESPN FC began its “32 Teams in 32 Days” countdown – a profile of all 32 national teams competing in this year’s World Cup – that continues today with Australia and concludes with host country Brazil on Wednesday, June 11.

Brazil 2014 will be his second straight FIFA World Cup event. One month away from kickoff, Front Row caught up with Phipps to discuss the preparations underway.

What are the major differences between Brazil 2014 and South Africa 2010?
It is quite different in terms of our technical build-out. In South Africa, we had the luxury of having everything under a controlled environment at the IBC. This time, we are quite spread out. We have our host set and host control room located at the Clube dos Marimbas. We have match control rooms and other infrastructure located at the IBC.

We have partnered, in a very extraordinary way, with ESPN Brazil. In South Africa, they were in another room outside from us. This time, they in our IBC space. Our edit facilities, which were all in South Africa, are now “out-boarded” back in Bristol, Conn., at Bluefoot and Victory Pictures. We are utilizing fiber to connect all of that and it makes this event a tremendous challenge.

What is the primary goal for your production operations team this far from kickoff?
This is a monumental event. Our goal is primarily keeping to a timetable and to be able to manage that timetable as some things slip. We have a rigorous schedule we set up for all of us and day by day we go over it to make sure that things are working the way they should be. The host set is in progress – we want to make sure that it is coming in on time. We have power that we need to put it. We have another wave of building for the technical cabins.

What makes an event like this special for you?
As I get older, the thing that really spurs me on is the challenge. There are a lot of events that I’ve worked on over the years – Monday Night Football, college football, et al. Those events tend to become, more or less, standardized after a while. But an event like a World Cup or Olympics, there’s always a new challenge, either when dealing with international partners or just setting up things in a remote environment that is different. It provides quite a bit of stretching of my abilities and a good sense of accomplishment when everything goes right.

How do you prepare for an event as demanding as the World Cup?
I’ve been preparing for this event for two-and-half years. There are several other folks who have been working with me that have been preparing for this event for, at least, a year. It is long-term event. It demands a certain level of dedication. . . Whatever we accomplish in this World Cup is a testament to the kind of talent that exists at ESPN and for this ambitious project under the leadership of our Executive Producer, Jed Drake.

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