ESPN tries something new with the good old US Open Cup

Of Karl Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (May 12, 2022) US Soccer Players – Herculez Gomez and Sebastian Salazar had to face some unfamiliar questions as they set to work planning and hosting the new ESPN+ “GoalCast” wraparound show , which was staged during Wednesday night’s jam-packed list of 10 US Open Cup games. It lasted about seven hours from start to finish and was a marathon broadcast, with nine live guest interviewers, cutaways to 31 goals, and little to no precedent in modern American football media.

One of the most pressing logistical matters was also the least glamorous. How would you go to the toilet?

“We didn’t do it,” Salazar told USSoccerPlayers.com on Thursday. “We really didn’t know how the timing of everything was going to go. We thought, ‘Maybe we just hold it for seven hours?’”

Luckily that wasn’t necessary. Gomez, Salazar, and their small production team found ways to fit breaks in for food, water, and other necessities for the cast and crew at their Southern California studio as they switched from game to game across the country as goals and other important events unfolded. It was another example of on-the-fly problem-solving for a creative group that’s been on the rise since the launch of the well-received bi-weekly show Futbol Americas earlier this year.

“Really, we banged three things together,” Salazar said. “We did a ‘goalcast’ – we effectively made a red zone, tried our best to do that as well as you can do in football. We did a ‘manningcast’, we invited guests. And we also did a bit of ‘watchalong’. It takes a lot more than four (production) people to put all of this together, but somehow four or five of them made it last night.”

Last month, US Soccer staff approached the duo with the idea of ​​hosting the draw for the round of 16 stage of the tournament live on their show on Thursday. They jumped at that chance willingly, and then attempted to build on the concept when the schedule for this week’s fourth round was confirmed, despite only having a few days to prepare.

“The real wonder of this show is what happened the week and a half before that,” Salazar said, noting that this round came amid a busy period at ESPN with the NBA playoffs ongoing and the NFL schedule release. “The bosses of our bosses, the guys who oversee our production team, they moved mountains. At first we couldn’t even find a studio to even do tonight’s show, the live draw. We’re doing today’s show from the SportsCenter LA studio, we did last night’s show from the NBA studio. I mean football never gets this studio. So there really were a lot of big pieces moved to make this happen.”

The show opened a few minutes before the first game of the night, Charlotte FC at Richmond Kickers, which began just after 6:30 p.m. ET, with Salazar and Gomez discussing their selections for “cupsets” and standout games. It finally ended in the early hours of the morning on the east coast after the end of the marathon penalty shootout that decided Seattle vs. San Jose in Tukwila, Washington.

Peter Vermes, Ben Olsen, Danny Cruz, Benny Feilhaber, John Harkes, Sebastien Le Toux and Brad Evans tuned in for interviews alongside the live game action on a split-screen setup. New England Revolution’s Henry Kessler and Nashville SC’s Ethan Zubak joined after participating in their teams’ respective wins. Kessler provided one of the most memorable moments of the night, an impromptu impersonation of Revs head coach Bruce Arena.

Hardcore Open Cup fans might stick around for the long haul. Casual viewers could stop by or hop back and forth between each match stream, which will also air on ESPN+. It all added up to the look and feel of a flagship event for a much-needed tournament, one of American football’s most cherished but chronically neglected traditions.

“I think our (Futbol Americas) show is groundbreaking in the way we cover the sport here in the country. Because we haven’t really seen much of it, at least on a platform like TV, and we haven’t really seen it in English,” Gomez said. “Seb and I grew up watching shows like this and we wanted to give the sport legitimate coverage like ESPN covers everything. I mean, ESPN covers everything that way and we wanted to cover football, football, in the same way.”

Depending on the schedule details, the next round of the Open Cup could present another opportunity for a whiparound. And it’s very likely that the network will apply the lessons to other football properties like La Liga and the Bundesliga from Wednesday.

“For Futbol Americas, we’re really betting on people being a fan of more than one thing. If not, the way we’re doing the show really isn’t going to be successful, is it?” Salazar noted. “We’re always questioning and wondering – anyone creating content in this space – is like OK how many people are out there who are like me who are into the Open Cup because it’s the Open Cup and like to jump around would any game? Or is that just people who are in the media?”

Competition for airtime, streaming time and other resources at the global leader is fierce, even after many years of football coverage and investment in media rights such as the Open Cup. Having passionate boosters within the network makes a real difference and a solid audience for Futbol Americas has helped its hosts build their case.

“The only way to prove the model exists is to show it to the consumers out there, and I think we’ve done that,” said Gomez, who said there were talks about the episode count from the current two per week. “Then you start coming up with a concept or an idea like the Open Cup, which is great and underserved, and I think that’s it.”

Though viewership statistics have not yet been made available, Wednesday’s show was warmly received on social media and among industry insiders.

“Yesterday’s whiparound generated some of the most positive feedback I’ve received for my work at ESPN, literally, in my whole life,” Gomez said. “While I was on the air, colleagues texted me how much they enjoyed the show. And people who are in or around the sport – I’ve had players who have been in their locker rooms (SMS). So it’s cool to get that kind of feedback.”

Experiments like this could even provide new insights into the elusive segments of the home football community that have yet to fully connect to MLS and other existing offerings.

“There is something about the Open Cup that is very easy for any sports fan, let alone a football fan, to understand, some really cool and unique storylines. And so I think it’s the perfect competition to bring more people under the roof,” Salazar said. “That audience, whatever that number is, it’s a critical audience for Futbol Americas, but I think for all of us in the American football media space. And we need to figure out how to grow that.”


Charles Boehm is a Washington, DC-based author and editor of The soccer wire. Contact him at: cboehm@thesoccerwire.com. Follow him on Twitter at:http://twitter.com/cboehm.

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Photo by Ben Queenborough – ISIPhotos.com

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