After nearly two years of scouting prospects, ESPN Enterprises has taken the field with the first in a line of sports videogames inspired by ESPN's own programming.
ESPN Baseball Tonight, compatible with both Nintendo and Sega playing systems, will be followed this winter by ESPN Sunday Night NFL, ESPN National Hockey Night and ESPN SpeedWorld. ESPN's celebrity sportscasters Chris Berman and Dan Patrick will lend their voices and likenesses in the roles of studio host and game announcers.
The games themselves will be produced by Sony Imagesoft. ESPN Baseball Tonight will be promoted with ESPN-created spots and a cross-promotion later this month with Little Caesars Pizza, which will distribute discount coupons to its customers.
A more extensive ad campaign for all the games is expected this winter from Sony agency Burkhardt & Christy, New York.
ESPN Enterprises, the network's new-business and licensed products division, is also planning to launch a chain of high tech sports bars where patrons can play advertiser-sponsored interactive sports games and watch an array of ESPN programming.
The division was created in 1992 "to leverage ESPN events and properties developed over the past 15 years into new business," said Rich Glover, senior VP-ESPN Enterprises.
Sports marketing experts say the division could yield big dividends for the company.
"Because ESPN has become almost synonymous with sports, it's a very endorsable name," said Brian Murphy, editor of Sports . "Mickey Mantle is the foremost name in baseball, Michael Jordan ranks first in basketball and ESPN is positioned first as the sports authority for fans."
ESPN's licensing efforts aren't all just sports and games. This summer, the network is planning to distribute to consumers its in-house produced catalog of licensed products, including hats and jackets from Logo Athletic, Indianapolis. Logo Athletic is also planning a retail rollout of ESPN merchandise this fall.
"I know it will sell," said Channing Souther, Logo Athletic's VP-marketing. "Our target audience is the sports enthusiast and serious fan, and the sports network they watch is ESPN."
But ESPN Enterprises' sees its greatest opportunity with emerging interactive technologies.
A line of sports instructional programs on CD-ROM from Intellimedia will soon be available, and will feature golf star Tom Kite and baseball great Ozzie Smith.