ESPN busts up the ad clutter with 'Basketball: A Love Story'

By Published on .

'Basketball: A Love Story.'
'Basketball: A Love Story.' Credit: ESPN

Filmmaker Dan Klores crams a whole lot of hoops lore in his 20-hour documentary "Basketball: A Love Story," but fans of the game won't have to sit through an unwieldy amount of commercials when they hunker down with this fast-moving, eye-opening series.

ESPN has trimmed the fat from the "Basketball: A Love Story" commercial load, limiting its sponsor roster to just three marquee brands. Presented with limited interruptions, the five-part docuseries is backed by blue-chippers Geico, Nike and Metro by T-Mobile, the prepaid wireless brand formerly known as MetroPCS.

While primetime TV is basically a full-court press of commercial messaging, "Basketball: A Love Story" effectively calls off the marketing dogs. According to Wendell Scott, ESPN's Senior VP of Multimedia Sales, each two-hour installment of "Basketball" will feature as few as four ad breaks, but no more than six, a marked reduction from the standard eight-pod structure the network uses for similar programming initiatives.

Naturally, the ad breaks in ESPN's sports coverage are far more frequent and vigorous; per Nielsen estimates, the network's scripted and studio programming carry about 30 percent of the load found in a live game. For example, the network's "Monday Night Football" telecasts are peppered with 20 breaks per game, with 10 in-game commercial pods appearing in each half of action.

"Game action and game breaks often influence how we manage commercial inventory in live events," Scott says. "Scripted programming gives us a little more flexibility to try new formats, and given the unique presentation of 'Basketball: A Love Story,' with its 62 vignettes, this was a perfect opportunity to mix things up a bit with our sponsors."

Except for a standard slate of in-house ESPN promos, the commercial breaks that air in "Basketball" will be devoted exclusively to the aforementioned three brands. (One minute of local advertising breaks will appear in each half-hour.)

T-Mobile is using the "Basketball" tipoff to help promote the rebranding of its prepaid wireless service. The carrier's new creative features ESPN basketball reporter Adrian "Woj" Wojnarowski in a mockumentary-style set-up that highlights the speed and reliability of the service. "I need Metro by T-Mobile because breaking news is my life," Wojnarowski intones in one 30-second spot, before he's seen erasing a key portion of a co-worker's whiteboard presentation in order to jot down notes on a big NBA trade.

The Wojnarowski spots close out with a shot of the service's new logo and tag line ("That's Genius!"). The lead-off "Competition" spot debuted during last night's four-hour "Basketball" premiere; the ads were developed in conjunction with ESPN's in-house agency, CreativeWorks.

While Nike was rather vague about its "Basketball" game plan, it's likely that the apparel powerhouse will look to launch a few new hoops-themed spots designed to draft on the success of its popular "Dream Crazy" campaign. For its part, Geico has three recently spawned 30-second ads to run during the docuseries if it so desires; "Arm Wrestling and Basketball Champion," "The Gecko Sells an Apartment" and "An Unexpected Lawn-Mowing Win" made their national TV debuts on Oct. 1. (Geico's flood-the-zone brand strategy presents it with a good deal of options; per iSpot.tv estimates, the insurance company currently has more than two dozen spots in circulation.)

The second installment of "Basketball: A Love Story" bows Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. The series will continue to examine America's love affair with hoops for the following three weeks, with each new batch of episodes slated to air on successive Tuesday nights.

Most Popular