Whether you call it football or soccer, the “beautiful game” is one of the most—if not the most—recognizable and popular sports around the world, and fans everywhere are ready for the kick-off of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia tomorrow.
“The great thing about football is that it is a truly global phenomenon, and is huge everywhere,” Patrick Vien, executive managing director for international at A+E Networks, tells TV Real Weekly. “It is as celebrated and adored in the U.K. and Europe as it is in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The 2018 FIFA World Cup is a moment in time when intensely passionate football fans come together both on a local level and on a global level.”
The sport’s widespread popularity was part of the motivation behind HISTORY’s new global event History of Football: The Greatest Story Ever Played, a 14-day, 24/7 programming stunt that aired ahead of the World Cup, from May 28 to June 10. “With History of Football we aimed to tap into that cultural excitement and inject into it HISTORY’s well-recognized factual storytelling,” A+E Networks’ Vien says. “Football is truly ‘the beautiful game,’ and our job at HISTORY has been to show it in all its glory, worldwide.”
History of Football aired in more than 160 territories around the world, including in Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden and the U.K. It also aired across Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia.
“We embraced a global and local dynamic by which internationally minded content aired globally and was complemented by hyper-local documentaries aimed at a country’s specific football history,” Vien explains. “Every major territory presented over 40 hours of content, a blend of global and local programming. In addition, we had original, digital content that focused on various aspects of the game.”
History of Football encompasses original programming such as Head to Head: Football’s Greatest Players, which debates who is the number one player in the world, and Football Godfathers, about some of the longest-serving and most successful football managers of all time. There is also Football’s Greatest Moments, a series of five hour-long documentary films, including Bring Me the Head of Diego Maradona and Seven Goals that Shook the World.
Other soccer programs that bring viewers closer to iconic players include The Football Show and The Best FIFA Football Awards, both distributed by dick clark productions, International. The Football Show gets “up close and personal” with more than 20 top players and managers, including Juan Mata, Ronaldinho, Javier Zanetti and Michael Owen, according to Bob Kennedy, the company’s senior VP of sales and acquisitions. Viewers catch a glimpse of the stars “inside their houses, working with charities and going back to their homeland and roots.”
Kennedy adds, “Football is a huge part of the [global] culture, so when you see the players’ camaraderie at an awards show or see the lives of these superstars off the pitch, it makes for a very positive experience.”
Interest in football-related programming—which tends to be consistent year-round—grows every four years, in correlation with the World Cup. “We have seen renewed interested in Mata Mata and all of our soccer-related docs in the run-up to the World Cup,” notes Bo Stehmeier, the senior VP of global sales at Red Arrow Studios International. Mata Mata is a 90-minute documentary that chronicles the highs and lows of the lives of talented young Brazilian football players as they pursue their dreams of stardom on the pitch.
Red Arrow Studios International’s catalog features other factual content related to soccer as well, including We Must Go, a feature documentary following the World Cup journey of the Egyptian national team, and The Pitch, a multi-part series about football super fans that was made for Audience Network in the U.S.
Stehmeier adds, “Interest in any soccer-related programming peaks every four years, and in general, we have also seen an increased interest in sports-adjacent programming, especially if it includes real stories. As broadcasters that hold rights to key sporting events are increasingly filling their lead slots with suitable adjacent content, so are their competitors.”
Sabbatical Entertainment’s CEO, Miguel Somoza, believes that timing is important, even if football is “the world’s most popular sport and there are fans all year round.”
He adds, “We try to cast the widest net when producing programming for the world. Knowing the excitement and euphoria that this tournament makes worldwide, it was absolutely necessary to create content revolving around it.”
With World Cup Vignettes viewers learn about “this glorious event,” Somoza says. “Every aspect—the players, teams, groups, their private lives, the stadiums, the cities, Russia. It is a very complete series about all the elements of the World Cup and the audience will learn everything about the soccer world, past and present.”
Demand for football-related factual content is high in Latin America and Europe, where the sport has enjoyed an enthusiastic following for years. Additionally, GRB Entertainment’s Melanie Torres, director of international sales, notes that documentary content about soccer such as All Eyes on Brazil also does well in territories like Africa. “There are always buyers looking for sports programming, especially surrounding big events like the World Cup in Russia,” and All Eyes on Brazil is unique in that it takes a look not only at a country that loves football but also at the economic impact on the community when the World Cup came to Brazil in 2014.
The appetite for this type of programming is also on the rise in the U.S. “In both the general U.S. market and the U.S. Hispanic market, the interest in this sport grows more and more throughout the country,” says Sabbatical’s Somoza. Capitalizing on Americans’ interest, Sabbatical produced a special documentary for CNN called Draw, comparing icons past and present. He adds, “The revolutionary flexibility of this subject is amazing,” as football content works on all platforms.
No matter which team you’re rooting for as clubs take to the pitch to pursue their dreams of World Cup glory, there’s plenty of football-adjacent programming to score with year-round.