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ESPN’s Ley gets rave notices for FIFA coverage

Bob Ley grew up in Bloomfield, N.J., a town that gave the sports world NFL star Merton Hanks, major league pitcher Hank Borowy and NBA player Kelly Tripucka. It was soccer that was Ley’s sport at Bloomfield High School. When the New York Cosmos soccer team moved to Giants Stadium in 1977, Ley got a job as the team’s public address announcer, introducing players such as Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia and Franz Beckenbauer. It was the beginning for Ley of a long and fruitful association with the sport.

Ley, of course, is an award-winning TV journalist who has been with ESPN since the network’s third day on the air in 1979. He is best known for two things: hosting the investigative series “Outside the Lines,” and being a major presence on ESPN soccer broadcasts. Those two roles have come together in the past week as Ley and Jeremy Schaap anchored much of SportsCenter’s coverage of the FIFA scandal, the re-election of Sepp Blatter and his resignation announcement a few days later.

ESPN also announced last week a multi-year contract extension for Ley, whose “Outside the Lines” has won 11 Sports Emmys, three CableACE awards, a duPont and Peabody award and multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. OTL has done many informative segments on the FIFA corruption scandal.

For all his prestige in the business, Ley got a lot of attention on social media in the past eight days for two things on the lighter side of broadcasting. One was quoting Omar from HBO’s “The Wire” after Blatter’s resignation announcement: “You come at the king, you best not miss,” Ley said on SportsCenter. The Twitterverse applauded the pop culture reference.

And on May 29, Ley anchored coverage of the FIFA World Congress, where Blatter was re-elected president. It was a long day that began for Ley with a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call. ESPN’s coverage came on live at 9 a.m. Eastern with the proceedings from Zurich, Switzerland. FIFA’s meeting dragged along into the afternoon in U.S. time, and at one point – due to a glitch in the video feed from Switzerland – it appeared they were going backward in their agenda, rather than getting to the presidential vote. At that point, a frustrated Ley held up a FIFA press release containing the meeting’s agenda.

“For those that say it is base canard and unfair that FIFA makes it up as they go along, they are making it up as they go along right in front of our face,” he said, ripping the paper in a theatrical gesture. It was a scene that launched a thousand GIFs around the Web.

Was ripping the paper scripted ahead of time?

“Oh no, trust me, if I had planned it I would have messed it up,” Ley said by phone last week. “Look, I had gotten up at 4:30 in the morning. We were following this itinerary. We thought we knew where we were. We’re following the proceedings, it’s being streamed from Zurich. … And we’re on the air and panting and waiting for this to develop. And now we’re at item 16, it’s the penultimate before the election, and now they declare, ‘OK, now we’re going to declare a two-minute break before the vote,’ and they throw it to us back in the studio. And then I hear my producer say, ‘They’re back at No. 11.’ They’ve stepped back six steps in the itinerary. ...

“Here we were, waiting for the election that was about to happen and bingo, no, it’s not going to happen, and bingo, I tore it up. It was quite spontaneous, Schaap was trying to reel me in.”

How surprised was Ley by Blatter’s resignation?

“Given the fact that he had just won re-election on Friday, and Prince Ali,” a contender for the office, “had conceded to not even go to the second ballot, it was absolutely stunning,” Ley said, adding, “he’s going to be in power for months yet. He’s not climbing onto that helicopter on the South Lawn and giving us the double-V sign just yet.”

“Outside the Lines” has done many reports about FIFA, but Ley wants to make clear that plenty of other journalists did some heavy lifting on uncovering the alleged corruption tied to the organization.

“E: 60,” hosted by Schaap on ESPN, “did a marvelous and well-reported profile of Blatter,” Ley said, “but the critical journalistic work here was done in England by a guy named Andrew Jennings. He wrote a book in 2006 called ‘Foul,’ that’s what got the ball rolling. And the London Times as well did some amazing stuff. The British journalists are the ones who did the seminal and important fact-finding here.”

Ley hosted ESPN’s coverage of the 2011 Women’s World Cup from Germany. Fox Sports has since won broadcast rights to the World Cup, which it has through 2026. Ley said he will take some vacation time this summer, catching plenty of Women’s World Cup broadcasts on TV. He and the OTL staff are also putting together a 25th-anniversary special that is set to air July 7.

He said he has enjoyed the process of reviewing previous shows for the anniversary special. A few in particular stand out.

“I thoroughly enjoyed our visits to Vietnam to look at the sneaker factories and to Russia years ago, just after the Wall came down, to look at their Olympic programs,” he said.” I recall a two-hour town meeting with President Clinton on the topic of race in sports. Interviewing Bush 41 aboard Air Force One was pretty neat. You get that invitation and it’s designed to impress you, and they often succeed in doing that.

“I recall interviewing Lance Armstrong back in 2006. You can find that interview easily on YouTube. We had done a lot of reporting, myself and producer Justine Gubar, on Armstrong and we had 10 unvarnished minutes with him and he just had no good answers for what all these people were saying about him. That was fun.”

World Cup kicks off

Fox’s 52-game slate of Women’s World Cup coverage from Canada began Saturday night on Fox Sports 1. That cable channel is also the place to watch Team USA’s first game, 7:30 p.m. Monday against Australia.

The games will be spread across Fox (Channel 29), Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2, culminating with the July 5 championship game in prime time on Channel 29.

The announcing team of JP Dellacamera, Cat Whitehill and Tony DiCicco will call the U.S. games throughout the group stage.

The four other broadcast teams announcing the games for Fox are: Glenn Davis and Christine Latham; Jenn Hildreth and Kyndra de St. Aubin; Justin Kutcher and Aly Wagner; and John Strong and Danielle Slaton.

ESPN will also have a strong World Cup presence in Canada. Former Team USA captain Julie Foudy and teammates Kristine Lilly and Kate Markgraf head the Worldwide Leader’s broadcast lineup.

The digital home for ESPN World Cup coverage is espnW, which concentrates on women’s sports.

Among the writers contributing there are Andrea Canales, Jim Caple, Jeff Carlisle, Kate Fagan, Ben Gladwell, Graham Hays, D’Arcy Maine, Doug McIntyre, Elizabeth Merrill, Graham Parker and Sarah Spain.