Cup runneth over

ESPN, ABC kick up soccer coverage

CBS has ignited March Madness for NCAA basketball, but ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC are preparing to unleash June/July jubilation this year by sharing the coverage of all 64 World Cup soccer matches, live and in high-def.

Starting on June 9 with a noon doubleheader on ESPN2 (Germany vs. Costa Rica, Poland vs. Ecuador), the three Disney-owned networks will carry, in English, an average of three matches a day through the title game at 1:30 p.m. ET July 9 on ABC.

Since all the matches take place in Germany, the live coverage will end up exclusively in the morning and afternoon on U.S. nets, including Univision, which has the Spanish-language rights to the quadrennial World Cup.

Those time periods “may reduce the audience levels because not as many people have access to TV sets on weekdays,” said Neal Pilson, sports consultant and former president of CBS Sports.

But Pilson said American interest in the World Cup has grown in recent years because “the U.S. men’s and women’s soccer teams have become much more competitive than they used to be.”

Each day of the World Cup, ESPN and ESPN2 will schedule 20-minute series “World Cup Live,” a studio show featuring news, highlights and analysis. It’ll run as part of the “Trifecta” block of ESPN programming; the two other 20-minute shows are “Baseball Tonight” and “Outside the Lines.”