FOX presenters get ready for a Women’s World Cup broadcast (WFI)

(WFI) United States FIFA rights-holder FOX may score record ratings for the July 5 Women’s World Cup final.

USA advanced to the final with a 2-0 win over Germany at Montreal on Tuesday night.

Nearly 17.8 million viewers watched the USA win the 1999 Women’s World Cup on home soil via ABC. That audience was exceeded only by the 18.2 million viewers of the Brazil 2014 men’s matchup with Portugal on ESPN.

The common denominator behind the scenes at Jack Poole Plaza in downtown Vancouver is David Neal. The multi-Emmy Award winner was executive vice-president of NBC Olympics five years ago. Now he is executive producer of FOX’s first FIFA tournament since the network took over the broadcast rights from ABC/ESPN.

Neal’s 400-person production team is carrying Canada 2015 in style from its base in a 5,400 square foot, two-storey, purpose-built studio on the Coal Harbour waterfront, beside the Vancouver Convention Centre.

“We really wanted to make a statement,” Neal told World Football INSIDER. “The location is spectacular, we wanted to build something that was equal to the location. and very functional for us.

“The one thing that continues to be DVR proof is live sports on TV. (World Cup is) one of the handful of global properties along with the Olympics that is a premium property to own. We want to maximize it. we’re not going to do it halfway.”

The complex took 75 workers from B.C. Event Management two-and-a-half weeks to build in May. Based on FOX creative director Gary Hartley’s design, the Whistler-style chalet is exposed on its north and south sides and incorporates Northwest Coast Salish aboriginal motifs and artwork. It features 15 cameras and a drone. The production offices and control room are indoors, one level below, by the seawall.


Executive producer of the Women’s World Cup on FOX, David Neal (WFI)

how much the setup cost, Neal would only say “hefty.”

The lounge-like downstairs is used for Women’s World Cup Tonight and its talk-show format, hosted by Kate Abdo and Eric Wynalda. Upstairs is a traditional sports anchor desk set with Coal Harbour, Stanley Park and the North Shore mountains in the background for World Cup Today, featuring hosts Rob Stone and Alexi Lalas. It even has a small artificial turf field in front of the studio, between existing restaurant patios, for analytical demonstrations by ex-players American Heather Mitts, Canadian Christine Latham, and German Ariane Hingst.

“We didn’t want to just be an American broadcast,” Neal said.

The script didn’t call for a pod of orca whales to swim by the convention centre, but that’s what happened on June 22. The nearby seaplane port is, however, a regular part of the show.

“We just decided that it didn’t bother us, once or twice a show we’ll even acknowledge, there goes a seaplane, we’ll take shots of it,” he said. “We decided that the location was so spectacular that if that was the trade off we had to make, it was absolutely worth it.”

Unlike the 2010 Olympics, when the cauldron was surrounded by a fence, locals and tourists alike come and go as they please. Many have stayed to enjoy FOX broadcasts of Women’s World Cup matches on the 21ft by 11ft, second-floor mounted big screen. Signs remind the public that it’s really a TV production venue; the official FIFA Fan Zone operated by city hall is near B.C. Place Stadium.

Numeris rating agency reported 7.5 million unique Canadian viewers watched some or all of the 2-1 loss to England on the national CTV network and RDS French-language sports channel. Viewership averaged 3.2 million, but peaked at 4.3 million in the second half. It was the most-watched program on Canadian TV for the weekend.

The only higher average TV audience for women’s soccer on Canadian TV was Canada’s London 2012 semifinal loss to the USA which drew 3.7 million viewers.

The USA quarterfinal win over China averaged 859,000, a record for a women’s match not involving Canada.

Reported in Vancouver Bob Mackin

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