In the first "This Is SportsCenter" ad to be produced since ESPN parted ways with longstanding creative agency Wieden & Kennedy, the network swings for the fences with a little help from Yankees slugger Aaron Judge.
Produced by the in-house unit ESPN CreativeWorks, the 30-second "Home Run Trot" spot features Judge as he indulges in a rather singular form of extremely low-impact cardio. In keeping with the traditional "This Is SportsCenter" format, the 2017 American League Rookie of the Year shot the new promo in ESPN's Bristol, Conn., headquarters, where he shared the frame with Scott Van Pelt, the host of the late-night edition of "SportsCenter," and daytime anchor Elle Duncan.
The new spot debuted during the Wednesday night/Thursday morning midnight "SportsCenter" telecast, which followed the network's coverage of a Celtics-Jazz matchup. Van Pelt's show is a respectable platform from which to launch the Aaron Judge promo; per Nielsen, episodes that have lead out of March basketball are delivering an average audience of 878,750 viewers and a 0.5 rating in the adults 18-to-49 demo.
A second spot, "All Rise," will bow Thursday at 5 a.m., during the ultra-concentrated "SportsCenter" that runs twice daily on Snapchat. Judge also presides over that promo, which includes cameos from the Staten Island Yankees mascot Scooter the Holy Cow and a remarkably unconvincing hairpiece.
One of the most visible practitioners of the long ball, the 6' 7", 282-lb Judge last season hit 52 dingers and helped lead the Yankees to the American League Championship Series. This week, the 25-year-old power hitter appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated alongside newly-minted Bronx Bomber Giancarlo Stanton, who closed out his tenure with the Marlins with a 59-home run effort. Together, the two titans may have a real shot at breaking the all-time record for homers racked up by a pair of teammates; in 1961 Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle combined for a whopping 115 base-clearing swats.
The new "This Is SportsCenter" spots are faithful to the aesthetics and themes developed in the W&K campaign, which first took flight back in 1995. In a sense, the original promos were instrumental in creating a version of ESPN that existed in a parallel universe, one in which the greatest and most revered athletes of the era were re-contextualized by immersing themselves in the absurd mundanity of office life. (The quick shot of Manning paterfamilias Archie tossing a steely I-swear-to-God-I'll-turn-this-car-around look at his sons Peyton and Eli as they roughhouse during a grindingly dull tour of the ESPN studios remains one of the most authentic human interactions ever to be captured in an advertisement.)
As much as it's not always an easy sell to convince athletes to make the jaunt up to Bristol, Judge was sufficiently enthused about the "This Is SportsCenter" gig that he brought his parents to the shoot, says Wanda Young, ESPN senior VP, marketing and consumer engagement. CreativeWorks will continue to develop new executions for the iconic campaign, she says, while last summer's signing, the creative agency Droga5, will handle ESPN's broader brand initiatives.
"Wieden was a great partner, but every group is always evaluating its agency relationships," Young says, adding that the CreativeWorks bench was ready to jump into the breach once it became evident that it was time for a change.
"There is no reason why we can't carry this on forward," Young said.