Upfront 07

As Media Companies Think Digital, ESPN Goes Offline

Steamlines Multiplatform Ad Buys for More Horizontal Strategy

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Bill Simmons has been feeding sports-hungry fans online for the last six years at ESPN.com. His quick-witted "Sports Guy" columns for the Page 2 section have gained a following large enough to generate 18 million page views in the two-month period following this year's Super Bowl alone. But as for Mr. Simmons' appetite, there's always been one potential sponsor he's hoped to snag.
Marketers can now get behind ESPN.com scribe Bill Simmons across multiple platorms.
Marketers can now get behind ESPN.com scribe Bill Simmons across multiple platorms.

"I think I've been open about my affection for Dunkin Donuts," said Mr. Simmons, who recently signed a multiyear contract to renew his relationship with ESPN. "One of my biggest regrets is not having them sign on [as a sponsor.]"

Streamlined multiplatform buy
If Mr. Simmons gets his wish, Dunkin Donuts can not only sponsor his Page 2 content online and in print, they can also reach the same targeted audience of males 18-34 across the popular cable network and its newly relaunched radio site, ESPNRadio.com. It's all part of a more streamlined multiplatform buy spearheaded by Ed Erhardt, ESPN's president of consumer sales and marketing.

At a time when most media companies are grappling with the best ways to get their linear content on to their digital platforms, John Walsh, exec VP, ESPN, said few companies are positioned as well as ESPN to incubate new programming and have it breathe offline.

"We work really hard at interconnectivity in our various mediums of brands to try to say 'What's the most powerful statement we can make?'" Mr. Walsh said. "This is as big a statement as you can make about the power of merging of another form of these two brands. I guess you're going to see other companies following suit and playing a big part in the future of some of the print mediums."

Thinking horizontally
Mr. Erhardt said he noticed an increased interest among advertisers to start thinking horizontally with their ad buys as opposed to vertically.

"There are now better reasons for advertisers who want a magazine and a dot-com solution to get involved," he said. "This allows us to get into, in some cases, print budgets that are now starting to think digitally, because there's not as many of those."

Tim Spengler, chief activation officer at Initiative, said the move to more multiplatform selling is a "natural progression" of consumer media habits, and a wise one to make on ESPN's behalf.

ESPN's 'activation' strategy
"ESPN has the good fortune of being relevant and important in all of the platforms where content is distributed," Mr. Spengler said. "The notion of activation is trying to get at the concept of thinking bigger and looking for more of a standout opportunity that can impact more people across more places, and companies like ESPN are perfectly tailored to have that conversation."

Yet ESPN is not alone in its most dominant platform, the TV screen. Mr. Spengler cited CBS's "Sportsline" and its NCAA marketing partnerships as a major competitor on the TV side, with Spike and Turner still viable destinations for reaching young men. But having an increased presence off-network is what will keep ESPN top-of-mind for buyers. "It's an easy place to make a one-stop shop," Mr. Spengler said.
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