ESPN treats promos as programming

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ESPN is classifying its promotions as programming and running promotions to promote them. Confused? Read on.

In an offbeat strategy, the sports network will offer sneak peeks at the latest commercials in its popular "This Is SportsCenter" ad campaign by releasing them first as content on the ESPN.com Web site. The network will then run on-air commercials touting the Internet airing of its "SportsCenter" commercials, which themselves will later appear on the cable TV network.

The award-winning "SportsCenter" campaign was developed in 1996 by Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore. The first of a batch of 15 new spots will make its debut on ESPN.com Nov. 15. The commercial, featuring actor/musician Jon Bon Jovi, will stay on the site for a week before starting its run on ESPN. At that point, a second "SportsCenter" commercial will take its place on the Web, starting a cycle that will run until all the ads are on TV.

ESPN.com will create a permanent archive area for the "SportsCenter" commercials, where viewers also will have access to some 60 classic commercials dating to the campaign's launch.

"It's kind of audacious of us," said Lee Ann Daly, ESPN senior VP-marketing. "But we look at those spots as how we entertain our fans. For some time, we had people e-mailing us and phoning wanting copies of past commercials."

The ESPN ads are aimed at hard-core sports fans. In one classic spot, pitching legend Roger Clemens is found in uniform in the ESPN newsroom photocopying pages with the letter `K,' used in baseball scoring and by fans at ballparks to indicate strikeouts.

"We don't make a hard-hitting sell in these spots," Ms. Daly said. "We just entertain our fans and give them something to talk about with their buddies at work. These spots function as much as programming as promos."

ESPN will run on-air promotions, produced in-house, to tout the Internet effort.

`YOU LOVE THEM'

"The theme will be `We know you love all the commercials, and now for the first time, you can find them on ESPN.com,' " said Spence Kramer, director of advertising and programming marketing for ESPN.

The latest series of "Sports-Center" spots was directed by Hank Perlman and Joe Ventura. Mr. Perlman was the copywriter for most of the original "SportsCenter" ads; he's now a partner in commercial production company Hungry Man Productions. Mr. Ventura is a free-lancer who was formerly with Wieden in New York. Kevin Proudfoot and Mat Stein of Wieden's New York office were copywriter and art director, respectively, on the new spots.

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