Is Marketing ESPN Just Preaching To The Choir?

by , May 24, 2011, 8:17 AM
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. . . Or is it more like selling ice to Eskimos?

At the ESPN Upfront on May 17, intended to lure new advertisers to and have current marketing partners expand around the network's upcoming schedule, a packed house at the Best Buy Theater in New York was witness to some of both.

Comedian Seth Meyers, who later this year will host his second consecutive "ESPY Awards" show, took a jab at the obvious. "Don't ESPN [sales executives] just say, "Nike. We good. Gatorade. We good."

Probably. But it's not quite that easy to maintain and expand upon the long-running manta, "The worldwide leader in sport." So ESPN, as with any company that consumers and marketers so closely align with a specific product -- sports, in this case -- puts a lot of money into growth, movement and proactive experimentation.

"Value," said Eric Johnson, ESPN's evp-multimedia sales," has never been more critical."

ESPN will continue to show games and events from MLB, NBA, the NFL (more on that to follow), college football, tennis and other marketing-friendly offerings. But new options are being developed for viewers and marketers alike.

As a division of Disney, it makes sense for ESPN to continue to merge sports with movies. ESPN Films will be an offshoot of the popular "30 for 30" series that launched in 2009, in which award-winning or up-and-coming directors created documentaries that told the stories behind the stories of controversial or memorable moments in sports.

The X Games, created by ESPN in 1995 when extreme sports on TV were getting a lot of push back from marketers, has since proven to companies that a solid demographic of young fans willing to spend money are watching, X Games will be given a global stage, expanding from an annual Winter and Summer event to four additional events beginning in 2013.

Sean Bratches, ESPN's evp of sales and marketing, offered the statistic, "We have 2.2 million people every day using an ESPN app." That was a jumping off point to expound upon the recently launched WatchESPN application, which enables computers, smartphones and tablets to stream live shows from across the ESPN family of networks. Potential advertisers were told that WatchESPN later this year will be running commercials.

ESPN made its pitch to Hispanic consumers and marketers, talking about the growth of ESPN Deportes. That will include its first original scripted series, "El Diez," as well as other new programming to attract a burgeoning fan base.

ESPN's Nascar coverage will also be morphing to placate both viewers and advertisers via "Nascar Non-Stop." Updating a format initiated elsewhere during coverage of non-stop soccer matches, ESPN will offer a split-screen so that commercials can air without cutting away from on-track action.

The NFL situation was addressed, in particular with regard to ESPN's investment in "Monday Night Football." The feeling touted to marketing partners was a cautious but optimistic, "There will be a resolution between owners and players, sooner rather than later."

Not directly addressed but alluded to throughout the presentation was ESPN's current attempt to win U.S. broadcasting rights to the Olympics, currently held by NBC through the Summer Games in 2012.

As a wrap-up, current marketing partners such as Taco Bell, Phillips-Van Heusen and Edible Arrangements explained how they as marketers usually not associated with sports have attracted consumers by being part of the ESPN machine.

ESPN then rolled out the Laker Girls, the University of Oregon and University of Connecticut mascots, New York Jets "No. 1" fan Fireman Ed and skateboarder/businessman Tony Hawk to liven things up. Just in case the "choir" was bored or the "Eskimos" still weren't interested,

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