2019 American Music Awards

How U2 Paired With ESPN and Soweto Gospel Choir for World Cup

Wes Orshoski
U2 performs at Giants Stadium near New York City, September 23, 2009.

After teaming with ESPN for its coverage of the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, Bono pulled aside ESPN senior director of sports marketing Seth Ader and said, "This is just a warm-up for the one that really matters: South Africa."

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In 2006, U2 licensed songs and concert footage to the network for use in marketing and programming. Four years on, it's forged an even more ambitious two-pronged promotional deal for the 2010 tournament. Ader and the band selected songs from the group's catalog for the "One Game Changes Everything" series of ads, written by New York ad agency Wieden+Kennedy, promoting the network's tournament coverage. "We wanted that big, global, anthemic stadium sound," Ader says, "and Africa has a very meaningful place in the band's hearts and minds."

Shown on all ESPN channels, the first ad-which started airing in January-featured "City of Blinding Lights." Download sales for "City" spiked in January to about 2,000 per week, up from nearly 1,000 per week in December 2009, before leveling off at slightly more than 1,000 per week, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Total scans for the track stand at 331,000. Other ads feature "Magnificent," "Beautiful Day," "Desire," "Where the Streets Have No Name," "Unknown Caller" and "Out of Control."

The Soweto Gospel Choir also recorded versions of "Get On Your Boots," "Magnificent," "Where the Streets Have No Name" and "Amazing Grace," in sync with U2's performances of those songs at its October 2009 Rose Bowl concert in Pasadena, Calif. Footage of the gig will be spliced with the choir performing in Soweto and Johannesburg, with the resulting music videos inserted into ESPN's World Cup coverage. ESPN's executive producer for the tournament, Jed Drake, says discussions are under way to bring songs and videos to retail.

ESPN brokered the deal with U2 manager Paul McGuinness, founder of Dublin-based Principle Management. ESPN declined to reveal financial details of the deal while U2's publisher, Universal Music Publishing Group, declined to comment. McGuinness couldn't be reached for comment, although when talking about the 2006 deal to the New York Times, he said the band's compensation was "nothing extraordinary, but we did get paid."

ESPN will be hoping to cash in on soccer's increased profile, post-David Beckham, in the United States but, in fact, ratings for the tournament have been respectable in recent years. In 1994, when the final was played in Los Angeles, 14.5 million people watched the match, according to Nielsen. For Paris 1998, 8.6 million tuned in. In 2002-when the final was in Tokyo and it aired at 7 a.m. ET-just 2.6 million watched, but ratings rebounded with the 2006 final in Berlin, with 11.9 million.

Elsewhere in the world, South African music is in demand for synchs since broadcasters want to add instant local flavor to their coverage. In the United Kingdom, commercial broadcaster ITV is using Afro-folk musician Vusi Mahlasela's "When You Come Back" for its main World Cup theme song, and Sony U.K. will release a compilation of the singer's work after the tournament to capitalize on the expected interest.

"Not only is this song getting a new audience," Sony Music Entertainment Africa label manager Lance McCormack says, "but, together with his performance at the Kick-Off Concert, it means he now has a wide audience primed for the release of a new studio album."


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