After 25 Years, W&K Splits with ESPN; Takes On Fox Sports

Independent Creative Shop Becomes Network's First Creative AOR

By Published on .

In 2015, Wieden brought the sharks that danced alongside Katy Perry during the Super Bowl halftime show to the ESPN office to have fun with staffers.
In 2015, Wieden brought the sharks that danced alongside Katy Perry during the Super Bowl halftime show to the ESPN office to have fun with staffers.

Wieden & Kennedy has worked with ESPN since 1992, creating the sports network's most iconic campaigns, and now the independent creative shop is parting ways with the company to take a shot at Fox Sports.

Fox Sports has named Wieden & Kennedy New York, which had been leading the ESPN account since 1995 and was responsible for the "This is Sportscenter" effort, its first creative agency of record. Fox Sports previously worked with Pereira & O'Dell on creative, but not on an agency of record basis. Pereira & O'Dell helped the brand "build the business to where we are now," said Robert Gottlieb, exec VP-marketing for Fox Sports. He added that several other shops, such as Barton F. Graf and Hungry Man, have previously worked with Fox Sports on projects. 360i's Vizeum handles media for the network.

Wieden & Kennedy mutually parted with ESPN at the end of 2016, according to a Wieden spokesperson.

"We are excited for our future with Fox Sports. This is an opportunity for real partnership, with a brand whose culture is rich and inspiring," said Neal Arthur, managing director of Wieden & Kennedy New York, in a statement. He added in the statement: "ESPN was a defining client for Wieden & Kennedy New York, and our entire network. We wish them the best."

Mr. Gottlieb said Fox Sports is investing more in creative than it has in the past to "drive the brand and vision of where the brand is going."

Jamie Horowitz, president of Fox Sports National Networks, has not been shy about throwing money around, particularly when it comes to talent, with ESPN veteran Skip Bayless joining cable channel Fox Sports 1 last year for a reported salary of $5.5 million and a signing bonus of $4 million. Fox also lured former ESPN host Colin Cowherd to join Fox Sports 1 and radio in 2015.

Despite the talent push, FS1 averaged 176,000 total-day viewers in 2016, compared to ESPN's 811,000, and as of December, the two networks have similar distribution numbers, with ESPN in 88.3 million homes and FS1 in 85.4 million.

Maybe new breakthrough creative is the answer for Fox Sports. "Our goal is to create world-class marketing that helps bring attention and awareness to our brand," said Mr. Gottlieb.

The relationship, which came about very quickly, did not result from a formal review. Mr. Gottlieb said the network was looking at options for an agency to help with the 2018 World Cup, and a mutual friend suggested he chat with Mr. Arthur, who Mr. Gottlieb has known for many years. The discussion spun into something much larger, with Wieden & Kennedy New York now partnering with Fox Sports on a global level.

While the specific scope of work for Wieden is still being worked out, Mr. Gottlieb said the agency "will touch every aspect of our business, ultimately starting with brand and culture." The shop's first major focus is around the FIFA World Cup in 2018, which will be the first time the event is carried on Fox Sports and FS1. Fox isn't making any early sales projections for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but when ESPN hosted it in 2014, the event generated $529 million in sales.

Mr. Gottlieb said Fox Sports doesn't "really look at it as a competition" with other networks, but focuses more on "executing a vision," which it believes Wieden will help amplify. FS1 is concentrating on being a "destination for smart, fearless, decisive sports opinions, as opposed to just sports news and highlights," he said. For the larger Fox Sports brand, Mr. Gottlieb said the vision is about being a little edgier, more colorful and "a bit louder and prouder than perhaps others in the space."

Wieden & Kennedy, which was No. 7 on Ad Age's 2017 A-List, with its Portland office ranked as 2017 Creativity Agency of the Year, has continued the "This is Sportscenter" campaign for more than 20 years, always filming the spots in the ESPN office in Bristol, Conn. In 2015, Wieden brought the sharks that danced alongside Katy Perry during the Super Bowl halftime show to the office to have fun with staffers.

In addition to its Sportscenter work, Wieden & Kennedy New York launched the memorable "It's Not Crazy, It's Sports" campaign, which the shop extended into a short film series in 2015. The agency has also done creative work through the years for ESPN around the NBA, College Football and Monday Night Football.

Contributing: Anthony Crupi

Most Popular