ESPN: We Welcome the Competition

Adds new studio shows, updated 'SportsCenter’ set as Fox Sports 1 launch looms

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STRATEGY: Worldwide Leader bets big on SportsCenter and rights deals as the sports marketplace gets more and more crowded.

As ESPN readies for yet another entrant into the sports marketplace with Fox Sports 1 set to bow in August, the longtime leader made it clear at its May 14 upfront that, like the most storied athletes, it welcomes competition.

Right away, John Skipper, ESPN president and cochair of Disney Media Networks, addressed the "elephant in the room" -- literally, as he brought up Alabama football mascot "Big Al the Elephant." "Several broadcast companies have decided in the early 2010s that there might be something to this national 24/7 sports channel thing," said Skipper, who noted that ESPN's long-term carriage agreements give his team an advantage. "We at ESPN like competition; it makes us better [and] makes us sharper."

To maintain its place as the Worldwide Leader in Sports, ESPN is putting more muscle behind its signature property, SportsCenter. The network's flagship program will move to a new 10,000 sq. ft., state-of-the-art studio in 2014. Sean Bratches, executive VP of sales and marketing for ESPN, described the new digs as the "largest, most advanced digital studio in the world."

During the presentation, ESPN offered artist renderings of SportsCenter's new home in Bristol, Conn. The studio will feature roughly 350 video display units, some as large as 15 feet in height. "We have the power to produce content in ways that no one else is capable of doing in real time," said Bratches.

SportsCenter anchor Sage Steele added: "We will be able to break down stories with more in-depth analysis than ever before."

Continuing to bet on its flagship news program, ESPN will rebrand its popular news and information app, ScoreCenter, into the official SportsCenter app in time for the upcoming NFL season in September. The new app will include a social element, curating tweets from ESPN talent and athletes. The app will also be used within SportsCenter for a second-screen experience. It will be available for iPhone and Android at launch, with an iPad version to follow.

Eric Johnson, ESPN executive VP of multimedia sales, touted a collaborative effort with Arbitron and comScore on the first single-source cross-platform metric.

ESPN in August will debut ESPNFC, its first daily soccer studio program in the U.S. ESPNFC. which will serve as a linear extension of its multiplatform brand of the same name, will be in the same vein as ESPN's other studio shows such as NFL Live, NBA Coast to Coast and Baseball Tonight. The show will offer highlights, news, analysis and digital segments.

The network will also introduce new NFL studio program NFL Insiders (replacing NFL32) and premiere its new slate of 30 for 30 documentaries on Oct. 1. The new set includes a doc from Entourage star Kevin Connolly about con man John Spano's late-1990s attempt to buy the NHL's New York Islanders.

But Skipper knows live sports is the gas that keeps the engine going. "Live sports rights represent the most valuable opportunity in media these days," he said. "We continue to accumulate the broadest and best portfolio in the business."

E-mail comments to tim.baysinger@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: @tim_bays