ESPN Ramps Up Football, Soccer Coverage, Pushes Sports Cross-Platform

Ray-LewisFor sports fans, it’s about live content across all screens. And ESPN is providing it. That was the broad theme laid out at the Disney-owned sports network’s upfront presentation in New York Tuesday morning.

But live isn’t just games, said Ed Erhardt, president, global customer marketing and sales, ESPN. It’s also a game highlight that a viewer is watching on a tablet, a score update being accessed via smartphone, or some news item that an ESPN personality is reporting via Twitter. “They’re all additive experiences,” Erhardt said. “Most of the [advertising] market wants it.”

It’s no secret that live sports programming is widely viewed as the best-performing genre on television today. ESPN officials suggested that’s why competitors like Fox and NBC Universal are building dedicated sports channels.

But with many long-term distribution deals and sports rights agreements in place, “I like our hand,” said John Skipper, co-chairman Disney and ESPN Media Networks and president, ESPN. Competition, he said, “makes us better and stronger.”

The network unveiled plans for a new 10,000 square-foot TV studio that will house Sports Center beginning in 2014. The program is also introducing a new segment called “SportsCenter on the Scene” that will travel to locales by a branded bus equipped with live-shot capability.

The show is giving its “ScoreCenter” app a makeover, rebranding it “SportsCenter” in time for the upcoming football season. It will include scores, latest news, video clips, tweets from network talent and more.

Also, Ray Lewis -- the recently retired pro football great -- has joined the ESPN lineup. He will appear on “Monday Night Countdown,” “Sunday NFL Countdown” and “SportsCenter.”

The network is ramping up its football coverage with the debut of "NFL Insiders," a one-hour weekday news and information program that will air year-round. Major contributors will include NFL journalists Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter. Also featured will be Bill Polian, a 25-year veteran of NFL front offices. ESPN’s Suzy Kolber will host.

The cabler is also launching a new daily soccer studio show featuring news, highlights and analysis. The network’s soccer platform is relaunching its Web site and app in time for the start of next season’s international soccer leagues.

The network will be doing extensive coverage of the 2014 World Cup, and the sales market for that event is well underway, confirmed Erhardt. “We’re negotiating with people now,” he said.

Erhardt expects that other pieces of the sports market to move earlier than usual -- especially college football. The bowl game set-up is being revamped next year to put a national championship game in place. “Most advertisers want to have a position this year,” he said, so they won’t be left out when the new format kicks in.

The ad market for the NBA playoff season is moving swiftly, said Erhardt. “We’re in good shape. There are not a lot of other rating points in the marketplace.”  



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