Cisco and ESPN: A Lesson in Sports, Technology and Community for The Beautiful Game
In 1994 in a sun swept stadium in California, filled with more than 60,000 excited soccer fans from around the world, a young upstart US national soccer team was playing in the World Cup against the mighty Colombian national team. The captain of the young American team was John Harkes a nimble player known for speed and great soccer footwork. What few realized was he also was about to leave an indelible impression on US soccer for years to come. It was during this pivotal soccer match with Colombia that John Harkes streaked down the right side of the pitch (field) and made a brilliant cross pass in front of the Colombian goal that inextricably ricocheted off a Colombian defender and sailed into the goal. The Americans went wild with celebration and later this goal proved pivotal in the US’ unexpected victory over Columbia.
I was there – some ten rows from the pitch (field) and remember feeling that at that moment, the US had arrived on one of the grandest stages in arguably the biggest sporting event in the world. After all, the crowd was filled with Samba dancers from Brazil, with orange clad shirts from Holland and of course the red and white face paint of the Swiss. It was a global community gathered to celebrate a beautiful game.
Now fast forward some 16 years later to a New York Cisco office in midtown Manhattan. Once again, I had the pleasure of seeing John Harkes before another assembled global community. He still had his signature smile and looked as if he could still blaze down a pitch. Only this time, his purpose was much different…
On Thursday, May 20 John Harkes and former Nigerian national player Efan Ekoku (both now ESPN Soccer Analysts) joined Cisco and ESPN executives for a Cisco TelePresence enabled press conference from New York, London and Johannesburg. The focus of this event was to announce ESPN’s plans to utilize Cisco TelePresence interactive video technology for live coverage of the World Cup soccer tournament from South Africa. More than 30 business, technology and sports reporters joined this live TelePresence press conference from Toronto, New York, London, Warsaw, Kiev, Sao Paolo and Johannesburg.
As shared during the press conference, Cisco TelePresence units will be deployed across South Africa in locations such as Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg allowing ESPN to conduct remote live interviews with players, coaches and other sports and government officials. The interviews and behind the scenes footage captured from these remote locations will then be available for sports fans to view on ESPN, ESPN.com and ESPN’s network of Soccernet sites. Is essence, this technology is uniting a global viewing audience who can’t otherwise be on-site for the tournament in South Africa.
According to ESPN, the ability to bring HD quality remote video interviews into the coverage package of a global sporting event is truly a groundbreaking development in the advancement of IP enabled television.
As noted by Harkes, “I was blown away by TelePresence. With the grand stage of the World Cup, TelePresence will bring all of the personalities of the game to the viewing audience more efficiently.”
By utilizing Cisco TelePresence, ESPN is expected to have faster access to players and coaches and be able to generate a more expansive level of tournament video content. At the same time ESPN will be able to achieve significant cost savings by not having to have satellite trucks and personnel in every tournament location.
Rob Hunter, ESPN vice president for innovation said, “We have a unique challenge. While soccer matches will be played every other day during the tournament, soccer fans want tournament news and information around the clock. With Cisco TelePresence we can now have John (Harkes) remotely interviewing players, coaches and other personalities throughout the tournament – bringing fans the experience they want and deserve.”
And speaking of personalities, there was plenty of soccer trash talking and tournament result forecasting between John Harkes, Efan Ekoku and Cisco executives Paul Mountford, David Hsieh and David Meads. We won’t spoil the soccer predictions but if you’re curious about what was said, check out the webcast of the global roundtable discussion.
Following the press conference I had the opportunity to relive the 1994 goal that Harkes scored against Colombia. At the mere mention of that match, Harkes broke into smile and said, “that is a day I will never forget.”
When I think of 1994 and the events of last Thursday, I couldn’t agree more.
Here are a few photos of our famous soccer stars sharing in a lively chat and debate with Cisco and ESPN executives.