ESPN Wants to Be MySpace for Fans

Plans to Sell Sponsors Into Team Communities

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- ESPN is hoping to become the MySpace of the sports world. In September, it will unveil as part of ESPN's Sports Nation property the tools for fans to create profiles, contribute to sports blogs, post opinions and link to favorite articles.
Bill Walton
Bill Walton Credit: ESPN

John Zaccario, VP-digital media sales and marketing at ESPN, revealed the plans to advertisers at a pre-NBA Draft party in Chelsea that also featured an appearance by NBA great (and ESPN basketball analyst) Bill Walton. "We want to make the sports fan the center of ESPN's universe," Mr. Zaccari said. ESPN will allow users to personalize their home pages and participate in blogs and discussions around favorite teams and sports.

'Team sponsorships'
ESPN plans to sell "team sponsorships" around the community-driven elements of its website, much like the sponsorships individual professional teams ink with marketers. For example, a particular beer marketer could be the official beer of the New York Yankees on ESPN.

ESPN also unveiled its digital plans for "Monday Night Football," coined "Monday Night Surround." ESPN.com's editor in chief, John Papanek, said the network would cover the game "the way ABC covered the Super Bowl -- with fleets of trucks and armies of crews." "Monday Night Surround" will feature scouting reports, news and games within a game, where fans from the opposing teams register and battle each other for fan supremacy through trivia, IQ contests, debates and betting contest created and hosted by Page Two columnist Bill Simmons.

Network executives also detailed Scream, ESPN's new broadband player, and reported that ESPN 360 managed 40,000 simultaneous streams of World Cup play. ESPN 360 is only available to 8 million subscribers but ESPN launched a free trial of the service June 26.

Long-winded session
Mr. Walton took the stage for what was promised to be a half-hour question-and-answer session, but the long-winded basketball star-turned-analyst didn't get around to answering many queries; he instead regaled digital media buyers with stories of his formative and basketball playing years, critiqued this year's NBA Finals and yet, somehow, managed to work praise for ESPN into nearly every subject he approached.

He likened Ed Erhardt, ESPN's president-customer sales and marketing, to former Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach and explained how the Miami Heat came from behind to win an NBA Championship victory: "[It happens] when you have the talent, when you have the best guys -- and that's what we have at ESPN."

"We got our money's worth tonight," Mr. Erhardt quipped as he closed the show and thanked Mr. Walton.
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