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Behind the Work: Old ESPN 'SportsCenter' Set Gets Picked by 'American Pickers'

Overlap Between Shows' Audiences Not Necessarily Strong

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ESPN is promoting the slick new presentation for "SportsCenter" -- entailing more than 100 video monitors in a sprawling set, a revamped design and graphics, and even a retooled theme song -- with an ad in which the old ESPN set gets "picked" by the antique hunters on History Channel's "American Pickers."

Created by ESPN's in-house creative agency CreativeWorks, the commercial opens with ESPN host Scott Van Pelt helping "American Pickers" hosts Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz lift and shove the old "SportsCenter" desk into the American Pickers van. It was retired earlier this month after more than 32,000 shows.

"Whole lotta memories buried in that desk," Mr. Van Pelt tells the camera.

The campaign begins airing today, with 15- and 30-second versions running on ESPN and History, and a longer version running online.

"SportsCenter" has a long history of respected (and hilarious) ads with agency of record Wieden & Kennedy New York, which created the deadpan "This is SportsCenter" campaign playing off the network's breathless coverage. CreativeWorks, which opened in 2010, is distinct: Its team takes on creative work for marketers looking to advertise on ESPN in a voice and style that will feel natural to the sports giant's sizable audience.

"We know the voice, we know our audience, and we definitely look to leverage our scale," said Carrie Brzezinski, VP-marketing solutions at ESPN. CreativeWorks has produced campaigns for brands ranging from Jaguar to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

CreativeWorks first worked with History Channel in February, when the network was promoting the second season of its series "Vikings." After the campaign, showing ESPN host Kenny Mayne hanging out with a "Vikings" character known as the Seer, the companies began talking about a deeper partnership. (Disney, the parent company of ESPN, has a 50% stake in History parent A&E Networks).

By then, History was trying to figure out how to promote the premiere of the sixth season of "Pickers," which had become one of its top shows, and ESPN was in the midst of building a new set for its flagship program.

Though "Pickers" was not scheduled as a topic of conversation, a member of the ESPN team suggested it might be funny to have the "Pickers" hosts come and get the old "SportsCenter" desk as a collectible.

History loved it.

"It was one of those things where we're the only sponsor and the best sponsor," said Chris Epple, VP-marketing at History.

On paper, the audience overlap between the two shows was not strong. "We had to work a little harder to tell them who Scott Van Pelt is," Ms. Brzezinski said. "And in our world, we're introducing Mike and Frank."

But the marketing team at History still liked the opportunity, and so they pressed ahead.

"It's important for us to connect with men," Mr. Epple said. "No matter what, any show that focuses on targeting men, sports is going to be part of it on some level.

"The overlap here is 'SportsCenter' is about getting insight, what happened with a game or a trade," Mr. Epple continued. "And at the core, Pickers is about getting the same thing."

Production itself was effortless. The script was barely touched, and filming and editing went off without a hitch in early June. In fact, the campaign could have gone live several weeks ago, but the "SportsCenter" set took longer than anticipated to get ready.

"We wanted people to know we're on a new set before we launch creative showing that we're getting rid of the old one," Ms. Brzezinski said.

As for the old set, there's a reason Mr. Wolfe and Mr. Fritz let Mr. Mayne keep the desk in the ad. It is being auctioned off on eBay, as part of ESPN's ongoing support of the Jimmy V Foundation, which supports cancer research.

Ms. Brzezinski said that the plan had always been to auction the desk off. Being able to give it more visibility in an integrated campaign was an added bonus.

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