ESPN: Flexing Its Marketing Muscle

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With live sports gaining ratings and growing
ad revenue, ESPN used its upfront presentation on
May 17 to reinforce its position, introduce new shows,
show off new technology and remind sponsors how it
helps drive sales.

Ed Erhardt, president of customer marketing and
sales at ESPN, said he expected a
strong upfront thanks to an unrivaled
slate of sports that create
engagement with fans on multiple

On mobile, ESPN said it would
begin selling commercials on
its WatchESPN app for smartphones
and tablets during the
college football season. Sean
Bratches, executive VP for sales
and marketing, said that 2.2 million
people are already using an
ESPN app. “That’s scale. That’s
engagement,” he said.

The presentation included testimonials
from marketers Gillette,
Taco Bell, Phillips-Van Heusen
and Edible Arrangements on how
working with ESPN has juiced sales, driven traffic and
crashed servers.

“If you have a male target, it’s almost impossible not
to be on ESPN,” said Tom Winner, media director,
Wieden + Kennedy, whose clients include Nike.

During the presentation, Saturday Night Live’s Seth
Meyers, who hosts the ESPYs
in his spare time, noted that he
was surprised ESPN even needed
to have an upfront. But Page
Thompson, CEO of Omnicom
Media Group North America,
said the event, complete with
L.A. Lakers cheerleaders, college
mascots and a gaggle of on-air
talent, “reinforces the strength we
know ESPN has. It’s entertaining,
and it gets you excited about the

ESPN made some announcements
during its upfront:

* It will be emphasizing new
programming on ESPN2 with
two new afternoon studio shows: Dan Le Batard Is
Highly Questionable
, based in Miami, and Numbers
Don’t Lie
, which should appeal to fantasy sports fans.

* ESPN announced that during coverage of the final 10 races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, the action
will not be interrupted by commercials. Instead
the network will deploy its NASCAR NonStop format
that will feature a split screen showing racing action,
a leader board and a prominent ad. “You can’t miss
the ad and you won’t miss a moment of action,” said
John Skipper, executive VP of content, who dubbed it
“sportus non-interruptus.” Fox has also begun showing
non-stop action on its NASCAR broadcasts, and Turner
Sports has experimented with a similar approach.

* Leading up to this summer’s women’s World Cup
in soccer, the network will present “Her/oics” documentaries.
The series of six short films on women involved
in the sport begins June 25 on ESPN2 and will
also appear on espnW, the sports Website for women.

* The ESPN X Games will be expanded with four
events outside the U.S. joining two in America,
starting in 2013. Potential cities will bid to host the
new events, joining Aspen, Los Angeles and Tignes,

* ESPN Deportes plans to air its first original scripted
series, El Diez, a 10-episode drama about a professional
soccer player in Mexico City.

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