SportsCenter Gets 'Overtime' Thanks to Las Vegas

City Pays to Sponsor an Extra 60 Seconds of ESPN News

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- First ESPN recruited the Geico cavemen for the new season of "SportsCenter." Now the network's flagship news show is gaining an extra minute of programming time, courtesy of Las Vegas.
The deal was designed not to conflict with the show's editorial content but rather enhance it, said Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN's customer marketing and sales.
The deal was designed not to conflict with the show's editorial content but rather enhance it, said Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN's customer marketing and sales.

The city is sponsoring a "SportsCenter Overtime Minute," a reference to Las Vegas' own ad tagline, "Overtime Guaranteed," lending the show's producers an extra 60 seconds to fill with last-minute highlights, recaps and news stories. The first segment airs tonight during "SportsCenter" 's 1 a.m. ET (10 p.m. PT) timeslot, with a total of 16 spots slated to air through September 2009.

A win-win partnership
Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN's customer marketing and sales, said the ad deal was designed not to conflict with the show's editorial content but rather enhance it. "We continue to want to innovate, take risks and try new things with a brand that is the real cornerstone of ESPN," he said. "What this shows is you can take a journalistic enterprise like 'SportsCenter' and marry it with the context that brands like Vegas are trying to talk about."

Fletcher Whitwell, corporate media director of Las Vegas' agency R&R Partners, said integrations into other news shows like E! Entertainment's "Vegas News" reports or Fox Sports Network's "Best Damn Sports Show Period" have proved to be a successful marketing model for the brand. Because Las Vegas is mentioned within the content of the show and is also able to buy program-adjacent commercials and online ads, the "return on investment we've seen in the past has been five, six, even 10 times the value," Mr. Whitwell said.

The same integration methodology applies to Las Vegas' deal with "SportsCenter," which includes a buy on ESPN.com as well as with ESPN's Spanish-language sibling network ESPN Deportes. "Knowing that Vegas is a top destination for sports, this synergy with ESPN is really seamless. It's not like we're pushing a Vegas-specific message throughout that minute," Mr. Whitwell said.

Mr. Whitwell and his team have strategically scheduled each "Overtime Minute" to air during key sporting events throughout the year, starting with this week's coverage of the World Series. The next spot is slated to air in late December around the College Bowl.

Integrations now familiar
"SportsCenter" producers have straddled the increasingly blurred lines between edit and ad sales for years now with advertisers such as Anheuser-Busch. The beer brewer's Budweiser Hot Seat, for example, was recently tweaked to become the Bud Freeze Frame, after the show's producers conducted a focus group with viewers to gauge their reception to the integrated sponsorship.

Mark Gross, senior VP-managing editor, studio production at ESPN, said, "We have a great communication with our ad sales team in which we're exchanging year-round ways that all serve the fan," he said. "Even though there might be a sponsored billboard or whatever the case may be, our focus first and foremost is on the fan."
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