Twitter, looking to cash in on the sky-high volume of tweets about sports on TV, is launching a partnership with ESPN to create custom campaigns for brands around events like the World Series and the Super Bowl.
The companies are announcing the first program, GameFace, at ESPN's upfront Tuesday morning. GameFace will center on the NBA Finals and be promoted on Twitter with the #GameFace hashtag. The social-TV dimension calls for the hashtag and program to be promoted on-screen during ABC's live broadcasts of the NBA Finals, as well as on ESPN's "NBA Tonight" show.
The goal of this initial campaign is to get fans to tweet photos of their best "game face" accompanied by the dedicated hashtag. At the end of each game of the finals, "NBA Tonight" studio analysts will display some of the top contest photographs on air. Some photos will also get exposure at ESPN.com/NBA.
Twitter and ESPN will be co-selling the campaign -- which includes promoted tweets and trends, as well as plugs on ESPN, ABC and ESPN.com -- as a single package for each potential sponsor. It's the first time Twitter has collaborated with a TV network to build custom sponsorship packages around major events.
Twitter and ESPN said it is too early to describe exactly how a brand will be integrated, as they haven't sold the first deal. At a minimum, the GameFace sponsor's brand will displayed within the on-screen promotion of the contest on ABC, most likely within a lower-third graphic. The sponsor's brand is also expected to be tied into the Twitter page housing the GameFace photo entries. The companies declined to discuss pricing.
The second screen has become a fixture in many households, with 41% of U.S. smartphone owners and 45% of tablet owners using their devices at least daily while watching TV, according to a Nielsen study released in April. And they are using social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to have conversations about major events unfolding on the larger screen. Twitter, for example, reported that users posted an average of 10,000 tweets per second during the final three minutes of the Super Bowl this year.
The notion of incorporating Twitter into TV broadcasts isn't new. "The X Factor" let viewers vote for contestants through tweets, for example, while FoxNews.com used Twitter to gauge viewer response during GOP presidential debates. But Twitter's partnership with ESPN signals its intention to generate some revenue from a pop-culture phenomenon that it helped to create.
"Twitter's already the second screen for TV, and we've already seen it's like an EKG for attention," said Joel Lunenfeld, VP-global brand strategy at Twitter, who said the microblogging site and ESPN had a co-selling arrangement during the 2011 Final Four but that it didn't include TV inventory. "What we're doing now is helping brands and content partners to explicitly connect that conversation between the first and second screen."
Mr. Lunenfeld said that TV "tentpole" events like the Emmys and Grammys could represent opportunities for Twitter to forge similar partnerships with other media companies.
ESPN collaborated with YouTube on an earlier call for entries from its viewers. In that program, called "Your Highlight," amateur athletes were encouraged to upload footage of their athletic feats for a chance at having a clip featured on "SportsCenter." ESPN is now looking to capitalize on sports chatter on Twitter by celebrating fandom and cashing in in the process."It's giving fans a reason to become part of the content," said Eric Johnson, exec VP-multimedia sales at ESPN.
The two companies' sales teams began pitching brands on these sponsorships in recent weeks, Mr. Johnson said. The partnership is targeting 10 events over the next year and a half, including the Super Bowl, the World Series, NCAA Final Four, the BCS National Championship Game and the X Games. Ideally, one brand will own the sponsorship of each event, Mr. Johnson said. "We'd like to customize toward one specific brand as opposed to homogenizing it for four or five," he said.
ESPN analyst Jalen Rose, who has more than 640,000 Twitter followers, will tweet his top-five GameFace contest entries at the end of the NBA Finals. He will then reveal a winner on the air. The winner will get a tour of ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Conn.
ESPN-Twitter programs for future sporting events will not necessarily include a contest entry but will probably give fans some incentive to share, Mr. Johnson said.