ESPN Plans Expansion of 'SportsCenter'

Rolls Out Multiplatform Measurement, Ad Research on Sports Fans

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- After going the musical route for its upfront week debut last year, ESPN turned to the core of its brand, "SportsCenter," as the anchor for its upfront presentation to advertisers today in New York. The Disney sports network recruited anchors Scott Van Pelt and Steve Levy to host a 90-minute presentation that touched on multiplatform measurement, ad research that gets inside sports fans' brains and the expansion of "SportsCenter" itself.
Celebrities and media leaders at the ESPN upfront event included (from l.) Gretchen Bleiler, Olympic athlete; Sean Bratches, ESPN executive; Amani Toomer, New York Giants wide receiver; Spike Lee, director; George Bodenheimer, Disney Media Networks co-chairman; and Keith Clinkscales, senior VP of ESPN Publishing.
Celebrities and media leaders at the ESPN upfront event included (from l.) Gretchen Bleiler, Olympic athlete; Sean Bratches, ESPN executive; Amani Toomer, New York Giants wide receiver; Spike Lee, director; George Bodenheimer, Disney Media Networks co-chairman; and Keith Clinkscales, senior VP of ESPN Publishing.

The company's flagship news series will add eight more hours starting in August when it airs live from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on ESPN, with the launch of SportsCenter.com to coincide.

Research initiatives
As the "SportsCenter" news ticker flashed ratings highlights from ESPN and ESPN.com and distribution news for sibling networks ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, Sean Bratches, ESPN's exec VP-sales and marketing, discussed the new research initiatives ESPN will be starting this year. First is a partnership with Nielsen Connect that will serve as a single source of measurement for campaigns bought across TV, online and eventually mobile.

"We want to do everything we can to lead the industry toward cross-media solutions. ... Now we can finally capture what people are doing on all platforms," Mr. Bratches said.

Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN/ABC Sports customer marketing and sales, said the first data from the Nielsen Connect study will be made available in 30 days.

Metrics zero in
The network is also partnering with Nielsen Fusion to provide additional analysis to show advertisers where sports fans are spending the most time watching their favorite teams. Yet another research study, a partnership with Nielsen-backed NeuroFocus, will turn to the ultimate engagement barometer, brain waves, to gauge viewers' emotional response to content and ads.

ESPN also announced it will participate in the Disney Emerging Media Ad Lab in Austin, Texas, which will test ad models such as split screens, brand integration, sponsorships, addressable advertising and broadband video in different formats.

ESPN enters this year's upfront with $1.53 billion booked in ad dollars in 2007, and hopes to expand that total this year by broadening its content to include more entertainment and documentary projects. Already on tap is a Kobe Bryant documentary directed by Spike Lee, who showed up toward the presentation's end to discuss the new project. The company will also make its first venture into movie theaters next year with a biopic on baseball legend Jackie Robison, with Robert Redford executive-producing and co-starring in the project.

Also coming to the network is Rick Reilly, the popular "Sports Illustrated" columnist, who will contribute to ESPN.com and also host "ESPN Homecoming," a sports docu-series to debut in October.

ESPN's return to a focused, on-brand presentation earned a thumbs-up from several buyers, who also expressed interest in the network's numerous research initiatives. Chris Boothe, Starcom's chief activation officer, said he was particularly curious to learn more about Disney's Emerging Media Ad Lab later that afternoon at ABC's event.
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