ESPN Launches TV Campaign for Insider Digital Subscription Service

Sports Channel Touts Paid Service With Data-Centric Sports Analysis and Scouting Reports

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Sports giant ESPN still makes the bulk of its money from airing live sports on cable TV. But today it's launching the first TV campaign in more than in a decade for one of its oldest digital products, ESPN Insider.

Insider, which launched in 1998, is a paid subscription service that includes a growing amount of data-centric sports analysis, scouting reports and tools to help feed the insatiable appetite of those who play in fantasy sports leagues. Today, ESPN will begin airing the first of three new commercials for Insider in the hopes of broadening its appeal.

"Insider has been successful for a long time, but it isn't a product that has great awareness," said Adriana Rizzo, senior director of marketing at ESPN. "And when people are aware of it, they're not necessarily aware of all the benefits."

Insider currently has 670,000 subscribers, according to Kent Schacht, who oversees the business side of the service. About 40% of those are print subscribers to ESPN The Magazine who activated Insider access for free. (That bundled offering began in 2003, with Insider subscribers also getting a magazine subscription for free.) But this still means that about 400,000 subscribers signed up exclusively for the digital content and fantasy tools. For comparison's sake, The New York Times Co. recently said it has 530,000 digital subscribers.

Insider subscribers pay either $7.95 per month, $39.95 for an annual subscription or $59.95 for two years. Do the math, and it's clear Insider is a nice-sized business, but maybe not by ESPN standards. Hence the launch of the TV campaign.

The network filmed three different commercials at three Seattle sporting venues. The first spot, embedded in this post and scheduled to air for the first time during NFL Live today, is meant to appeal to the fantasy football fan. The second spot will target general NFL fans and another planned to run in 2013 will cater to people competing in bracket pools in connection with college basketball's March Madness.

"They're trying to convey what it's like to have exclusive access behind the scenes in the world of big-time sports," Ms. Rizzo said of the commercials.

The spots were created by 77 Ventures, the agency behind commercials for other ESPN products such as Bill Simmons' Grantland and the "30 for 30" documentary series. The TV campaign will be accompanied by digital and radio ads as well.

On the editorial side, ESPN is constantly evaluating new types of content that it should be placing behind the Insider paywall. Over the last few years, has turned its coverage of the NFL draft into practically a year-round beat, locking most of that content from its lead analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay behind the Insider wall. "It's a beat that lives largely independent of the current standings, and is therefore a reliable source of business and an uninterrupted opportunity to serve fans," Insider's editorial chief, Nate Ravitz, explained in an email.

Tools for fantasy sports players, both those that play on and through other online websites, are expanding as well. But the company is also mulling an extension of the benefits of Insider to the real world with what Mr. Schacht referred to as "experiential" perks. To date, Insider has dipped its toe into those waters with discount tickets to the ESPY awards. "We're really focused on building in more of that going forward," he said.

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