Media Power 50: No. 5 ESPN SportsCenter

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Advertising has been sold out on ESPN's flagship program "SportsCenter" since February and looks to be tight through July, said Lou Koskovolis, exec VP-multimedia sales leadership for ESPN and ABC Sports Sales.

"`SportsCenter' is the single most identifiable property on ESPN and perhaps in all of cable sports programming, and the show differentiates us from all of our competitors," Koskovolis said. "The show's content is certainly key, but the way we present it is also critical. We take our sports seriously, but we don't take ourselves too seriously, and the product we put on the air reflects this. It's our unique selling proposition, and it's why we have the No. 1 show for men."

Nearly three-quarters of "SportsCenter's" audience is male, Koskovolis said. "And over half of the average audience is adults age 25-54 with household incomes 40% higher than the average TV viewer, according to Nielsen," he said.

"SportsCenter" has also become a very important-and growing-media venue for b-to-b advertisers.

"We provide a certain social currency that translates into the business workplace with intelligent water cooler talk," Koskovolis said. "In addition, many `SportsCenter' viewers are business decision-makers." ESPN's research shows that "SportsCenter" viewers are 35% more likely to be decision-makers for a wide variety of b-to-b products and services than viewers of ESPN's other shows.

"You can count on `SportsCenter' to deliver male eyeballs," said Donna Mercer, partner-media director at ad agency Howard, Merrell & Partners, Raleigh, N.C. She said b-to-b advertising makes sense on "SportsCenter" and similar programs because the executive suite is predominantly male.

Advertisers such as Apple Computer Co., FedEx, IBM Corp., Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp. and United Parcel Service of America continue to buy into "SportsCenter's" appeal.

"In sales the best way to know if a customer is happy is if they come back year after year, and these companies have told us [with their advertising dollars] they are thrilled with their `SportsCenter' affiliation and continue to support it strongly," Koskovolis said. "We've also seen stepped-up b-to-b interest from the likes of T. Rowe Price Associates, Allstate Insurance Co., GEICO, and others with a large business play."

"SportsCenter" isn't the only ESPN property that is getting significant b-to-b attention. "Our ESPNEWS channel is like 24 hours of `SportsCenter,"' Koskovolis said. "With it becoming more widely distributed through national cable systems, b-to-b advertisers are finding it and demanding it as a good complement to their `SportsCenter' buy." -Roger Slavens

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