1. FIFA World Cup Final
Date: July 13
Other than the Olympics, this is the global event worth getting geeked up about.
It's taking place in soccer-mad Brazil, which will then have to turn around and host the Summer Olympics two years from now. Its stars -- including Argentina's Lionel Messi and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo -- are among the biggest celebrities on the planet. Songs are sung, bars fill, the colors go on.
Other than the Olympics, it's the one sporting event that even folks who aren't generally into sports can get behind. In the earliest rounds, when everyone still has a remote chance and there are bunches of matches each day, it's the World Cup at its best.
Here in the U.S., it's going to take a minor miracle for the national team to make it past that stage. It's in a group with Germany (a perennial power), Ghana (which seems to have the U.S.' number each time they meet) and Portugal (the "pushover" featuring arguably the greatest player in the world). So what do you do? Watch as much as you can early and hope for the best.
Back in 2005, Disney and Univision paid a combined $425 million to broadcast the FIFA World Cup, soccer's biggest event, in 2010 and 2014. That's $100 million for the ABC/ESPN English-language rights and $325 for Univision's Spanish-language rights. ESPN pushed coverage onto its ESPN2 secondary channel, its ESPN3 broadband site and its Watch ESPN mobile streaming service, but the final gets the ABC treatment. That's also for fans, who'll have access to the World Cup via their antenna, mobile devices and cable or satellite services.
But that's not a certainty from here on out. When it came time to bid for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup in 2011, Fox won out with a $400 million offer that nearly beat the 2005 total for the entire U.S. market combined. Comcast-owned Telemundo, meanwhile, forked over $600 million for the Spanish-language rights. Fox is still building its sports ecosystem and is ironing out its cable and satellite sports channels, as well as its mobile and streaming offerings.
What will it look like four years from now? Maybe a lot like ESPN's, maybe nothing like it. Maybe like a pay-per-view service that no longer provides streaming or even full event coverage for free. We don't know. What we do know is that fans will have a whole lot of access this year. The U.S. first-round rules once again apply: Watch as much as you can this year and hope for the best later.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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