ESPN: We’re Still The King of All Sports

New ‘SportsCenter’ studio to debut in June; media giant builds out game plan to reach fans everywhere and anywhere

Why This Matters

STRATEGY: The self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader continues to bet on its flagship program and market-leading live sports inventory.

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It’s been nine months since Fox launched its challenge to ESPN’s throne with Fox Sports 1.

While the old adage of “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” is true here, one year after the Worldwide Leader in Sports “welcomed” its competition, ESPN’s perch atop the sports TV marketplace looks as stable as ever.

“We took it seriously,” ESPN president John Skipper said of his company’s new competitor. “There hasn’t been a significant impact.”

Part of Skipper’s confidence comes from the fact that while the marketplace may have a few more shoppers, nobody can match what’s in ESPN’s cart.

“Our strong league partnerships allow us to offer fans more live rights than any other network,” Skipper said during ESPN’s upfront presentation in New York last week. “ESPN has the broadest and deepest set of rights in the industry.” And, as he argued, it’s nearly impossible to earn solid ratings for studio programming without strong live sports lead-ins.

A day before the upfront, ESPN renewed its rights to Major League Soccer through 2022, helping maintain the network’s footprint in the sport after it hands off the World Cup to Fox. ESPN also will add full rights to tennis’ U.S. Open in 2015.

Skipper also touted that ESPN launched 80 different programs and products over the last year.

That trend will continue with ESPN unveiling the SEC Network this summer, starting Aug. 14 with a college football doubleheader. While the upcoming network has distribution on AT&T and Dish, as well as smaller distributors Google Fiber and the NCTC, it is still missing some major providers. Skipper said they’re “in discussions with everybody,” adding, “I am hopeful of having the full distribution.”

After announcing during last year’s upfront that SportsCenter would move to a new studio, ESPN will finally pull the curtain on its flagship program’s new 10,000-square-foot digs during next month’s World Cup.

The new Bristol, Conn., set consists of two separate studio areas and roughly 114 monitors—some as high as 25 feet—which will be controlled by an automated system to allow the monitors to move around.

“It’s all connected,” said Rob King, senior VP of SportsCenter and news. “It enhances our storytelling.”

The new set also provides seamless integrations with the SportsCenter mobile app, offering a bevy of new sponsor opportunities. The studio will be able to transmit in 1080p when the industry is ready.