Inviting Brands to the Marriage of Sports and Celebrity

Intersport Media Readies Special for ABC With Brand Help From Its Venture

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NEW YORK -- If this summer's headlines have taught us anything, it's that the American public loves two things: celebrities and sports. The ability to associate brands with those two media staples, however, hasn't exactly gotten any easier. But Chicago-based branded-entertainment company Intersport Media Group is hoping to change all that both online and on TV.

Intersport Media's CelebTV has three major marketing partners in McDonald's Corp., Geico and Alberto-Culver.

In December, the company will co-produce a one-hour special, "Holiday With the Stars," for ABC, which will put a special focus on athletes and the celebrities who marry them (i.e., David and Victoria Beckham, Tony Parker and Eva Longoria, etc.) and bring with it an arsenal of integrated-marketing partners from its other venture,

Marketing partners
The TMZ-esque video gossip site, launched in February, has three major marketing partners in McDonald's Corp., Geico and Alberto-Culver hair-care products, each of which have executed innovative ways to weave brands into its celebrity-news coverage. Geico's infamous cavemen characters have even been hired to do some red-carpet reporting for their own branded "Caveman" channel on the site.

The venture is a slight departure from the 20-year business Intersport CEO Charlie Besser has built by marrying brands with sports entertainment. The company's sports division has provided branded programming to the likes of NBC, Fox, ABC and ESPN for their sports coverage, incorporating Pepsi, Mercedes-Benz and Liberty Mutual, among others, along the way ("Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year," "Geico Presents College Football's 10 greatest Running Backs"). CelebTV, and what will likely be a recurring series of entertainment specials for ABC, represents a critical next step for the company.

"We realized if we could do football, basketball and golf, why couldn't we do music and entertainment?" he said. "We do a great job with distribution and bringing advertisers into the process with us, so we did a lot of research and eventually ventured into CelebTV."

Mr. Besser also hired away two senior executives from "Entertainment Tonight" to give the site more of an authentic Hollywood voice, in addition to VP-general manager Dana Golden, an ad sales veteran for both ESPN and the NFL Network.

'Mid-roll' video ads
For advertisers choosing to buy pre-rolls or post-rolls on video-content sites, the inability to have their ad follow a clip as it gets syndicated on YouTube or MySpace has been a frequent point of frustration. Ms. Golden has been working with CelebTV clients to change this by offering mid-roll ads, so that the creative is embedded into the middle of the clip.

"It's really a turnkey solution for our sponsors," she said. "Video, especially on the web, is in high demand, and advertisers want to be in that space to reach that younger demographic. That's only going to become more important as the viewing goes up."

Ms. Golden and Mr. Besser are still seeking new partners for the forthcoming ABC special, and are also about to launch a new music venture with a major mobile carrier that would expand their footprint to another platform.
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