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ESPN's '30 for 30 Podcasts' Starts with a Look at the $30M Dan and Dave Disaster

By Published on .

Reebok pinned its 1992 Olympics marketing on a contest between Dan O'Brien and Dave Johnson that never materialized.
Reebok pinned its 1992 Olympics marketing on a contest between Dan O'Brien and Dave Johnson that never materialized. Credit: Reebok via Youtube

Advertising and high-profile sports regularly crash into one another at the intersection of Hype and Mammon, a garishly lit crossing where manufactured desire is only sated by obsessive consumption. And so it is fitting that the launch of ESPN's latest media venture will focus on both of these combustive elements.

On Tuesday, ESPN Audio will raise the curtain on "30 for 30 Podcasts," a series of one-hour sports/pop culture mashups designed to function as an extension of the network's acclaimed linear TV doc series. The first installment, "The Trials of Dan and Dave," zeroes in on the rivalry between would-be Olympians Dan O'Brien and Dave Johnson, who in 1992 became all but ubiquitous thanks to a relentless ad campaign from Chiat/Day and Reebok.

At the heart of the inaugural "30 for 30" episode is the $30 million advertising offensive that blew up in the client's face after O'Brien failed to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team and a shot at taking the gold in Barcelona. After kicking off in front of the 79.6 million fans who tuned in for CBS' coverage of Super Bowl XXVI -- in a bid to build up interest over the course of the broadcast, Chiat/Day ponied up some $1.7 million to run four 15-second spots that aired at generous intervals -- the Reebok campaign went off the rails four months later, when O'Brien's failure to clear the pole vault scuttled the "Dan and Dave" narrative.

While the first "30 for 30" pod offers a warts-and-all look at the ad business -- one rival exec crows that his team was "just fucking happy" to witness Reebok's failure firsthand before copping to the fact that Nike had "actively hoped that something bad would happen" -- the sneaker schadenfreude didn't scare off any present-day advertisers. In advance of the first season of the "30 for 30" pod, ESPN's ad sales team lined up MINI USA as the presenting sponsor, while Blue Moon, Citi, Blue Apron, Delta Air Lines and ZipRecruiter have also signed on as backers.

Custom integrations were developed for each client by ESPN's CreativeWorks division. Each spot is voiced by "30 for 30" host and senior producer Jody Avirgan.

In one 60-second pre-roll execution, Avrigan introduces the podcast as an extension of ESPN's mandate to hunt down the most intriguing stories before noting that the MINI Countryman has been instrumental in the company's ongoing effort to document these tales.

"To find great sports stories, you have to get out in the world and follow your instincts," Avrigan says, before extolling the virtues of the super-compact SUV's all-wheel drive, cargo space and twin-power turbo engine.

Also? Yankees Suck
If the Dan and Dave story may be of particular interest to listeners in the marketing space, the next episode should be catnip for fans of baseball, hardcore punk, ridiculous regional accents and those who seethe at the mere mention of Derek Fahkin' Jetah. Based on this rollicking Grantland story, "Yankees Suck" is the story of a coterie of street smart Massholes who mined more than $1 million out of the raw materials of a deathless AL East rivalry, a rude turn of phrase and a balky silkscreen machine.

As anyone who's ever so much as flown over Fenway Park may suspect, "Yankees Suck" is about as shot through with F-bombs as a Louis C.K. set. The colorful language was no deterrent to ESPN's sponsor-gathering effort, however, and none of the advertisers expressed any misgivings about the content.

"Yankees Suck" bows July 4. The episode will be tagged with iTune's signature white "E" in a red box, which is Apple's way of flagging all things explicit.

The "30 for 30" launch comes on the heels of a new study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau that projects 2017 podcast ad revenues to climb 85% to $220 million, up from last year's $119 million.

"The marquee brands that signed on for this project are a testament to the '30 for 30' brand and the growing importance of podcasts as part of a media mix," said Eric Johnson, ESPN's EVP, global ad revenue and sales operations. "Podcasts lend themselves to a distinctive kind of advertising integration, and we'll be taking advantage of that for each of our sponsors."

Upcoming installments of the "30 for 30" pod include a July 11 episode about a group of 20 English women who in 1997 ventured on a relay expedition to the North Pole and a July 18 show that focuses on a pair of card sharks who used a questionable "edge-sorting" technique to relieve an Atlantic City casino of $9.6 million.

While podcasts existed before the advent of the smartphone, it wasn't until 2005, when Apple first created a directory of podcasts in iTunes, that the medium began to flourish. But the growth was slow going compared to that of other digital-media offshoots, and advertisers really didn't start diving into the space until the runaway success of NPR's "Serial" justified all the hubbub. Today, a host-read podcast ad can fetch a CPM north of $80.

"The podcast format gets back to something that's always been really neat, which is how the brain paints vivid pictures from something as simple as the spoken voice and a few musical cues," said Ed Erhardt, ESPN's president of global sales and marketing. "Audio is at the forefront of a lot of the interesting things that are happening in sports and media."

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