Feast for soccer lovers

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:25 AM ET

The world's game has never seemed so all encompassing, so wonderfully wide in its scope.

When the 2006 FIFA World Cup kicks off next Friday in Germany, it will begin the ultimate multi-media feast for soccer lovers. Doesn't matter where you are -- in your living room, on the job, in your car or on the bus -- you'll never find yourself too far removed from the planet's biggest sporting tournament.

From the crystal clear images of high-definition television to the tiny screen on your mobile phone, viewers have never had so many avenues to follow the World Cup. Much like the Turin Olympics in February, Rogers Communications and its partners have developed a broadcast plan that offers up just what today's fast-paced world demands.

Every match live, either on Rogers Sportsnet (32 games), TSN (31) or CTV (the July 9 final). All of them available in HD format, another first for the World Cup. With an abundance of replay windows in prime time.

"It gives viewers a chance to enjoy the tournament on their schedule," said Sportsnet president Doug Beeforth.

When two matches are on at the same time -- as often happens in the first round of the month-long event -- one will air on TSN, the other on Sportsnet. If TSN is showing golf, the soccer is on Sportsnet. Blue Jays baseball on the 'Net? TSN becomes soccer central for a few hours.

"That's the key, the games will be live," said veteran TSN soccer analyst Dick Howard. "Fans don't want to wait. And now, with the Internet, you can find out how your team is doing play by play."

If you're away from the tube, not to worry. Video highlights are available frequently each World Cup day on Rogers cellphones, or via the official event website (FIFAworldcup.com).

"It will be unbelievable," said Howard. "I can just picture the scene ... people will be travelling on the bus and they've got the highlights (on their cellphones). When their team scores, they'll be hooting and hollering."

That team won't be Canada, which has only qualified for the World Cup once -- 20 long years ago. But make no mistake about it: When the likes of Italy, England, Germany, Brazil or France are on the pitch, thousands of Canadians will care deeply.

"As Canadians, we've all come from somewhere else for the most part," said TSN's Vic Rauter, who'll co-host a combined World Cup studio with Sportsnet's Gerry Dobson (Howard and the 'Net's Craig Forrest are the expert analysts). "For those two weeks or three weeks, you bring out the flag and wave your ancestry, the flag of your ancestry."

The fun begins Thursday with a one-hour pre-tournament show. Take your pick when and where you want to watch it: At 4 p.m. on Sportsnet East/Ontario, 5:30 p.m. on Sportsnet West/Pacific, or 7 p.m. on TSN.

PUCK DROPPINGS: The Eastern Conference final couldn't have turned out any better for TSN, which carried Game 7 of the Hurricanes-Sabres series last night. TSN also had Game 6, which attracted an average viewership of 1.1 million -- the network's second-highest NHL playoff audience ever. Last night surely had the potential to rank No. 1, ahead of Game 6 of the Lightning-Flyers conference final in 2004 (1.4 million) ... CBC has its hopes clearly anchored to the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup final, which begins Monday. The Oilers-Ducks West final averaged 1.977 million viewers per game for CBC, with a top audience of 2.437 million for Game 4.

BACK IN THE GAMES? Sports just might be in Lisa Hillary's future again. Last week, the Ottawa native left A-Channel, where she anchored the 11 p.m. news and worked as a reporter for the past eight months. She'll take the summer to ponder her next career move, which likely will mean a move away from the capital. "No doubt, I'll be on the airwaves again real soon," Hillary, a former TSN reporter/anchor, told the Sun. "I wish I could have stayed at A-Channel longer, but I guess it wasn't meant to be. I wish everyone there the best." Worth noting: Hillary did some freelance work during the Senators-Sabres series for the Madison Square Garden Network, which offered her a six-figure job last September -- a position she turned down to stay at home. Her IMG agent is also New York-based.

SCORING A NEW GIG: One more Ottawa native making a move -- James Cybulski, The Score's ace reporter for the past few years, who joins TSN on July 1. He'll continue to be based in Toronto. "We've had our eyes on James for awhile," said Rick Chisholm, TSN's senior VP of programming and production. "He has the potential to be an outstanding reporter for us."

AROUND THE DIAL: Even with competition from the NHL playoffs, Sportsnet pulled in a strong audience (345,000) last Sunday for the Quebec-Moncton final at the Memorial Cup ... Huge numbers on the 'Net for Blue Jays-Red Sox this week: 562,000 on Tuesday and 552,000 on Wednesday.


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