Disney Tells Sports Sponsors To Put Extra Mustard on Their Pitches

Disney Ad Sales Sports
A split-screen integration on ESPN for Ally (Image credit: Disney Ad Sales)

With sports one of the hottest corners in the TV advertising market, Disney Ad Sales and ESPN are telling sponsors that going the extra yard will help their campaigns get over the goal line.

At its Sports Summit Wednesday, Disney plans to show its ad clients its enhanced capabilities for live commercials, integrations, custom content and other ways to increase fan engagement and campaign performance.

“We refer to sports as live, unscripted drama, so it’s a lean-in advertising environment and a great place for brands because fans connect with the advertising,” Sean Hanrahan, senior VP, sports brand solutions at Disney Advertising, told Broadcasting+Cable.

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Even as they clamor to be a part of big sports events, advertisers want more than 30-second spots. “Advertisers are always challenging us to bring their brand to life in meaningful ways that will connect with fans outside of the commercial itself,” Hanrahan said. ”We're proud of the fact that we have a wide variety of the solutions to meet different demands by advertisers at different spending levels.”

Research has shown that custom content and integrations make the campaigns work harder and boost brand health metrics, he added, and the number of clients looking to do something extra with their advertising is growing.

“We have instances where we've done something in one sport and we get the question. ‘How can we translate this and do it elsewhere? Some advertisers want to extend a flight or get greater continuity throughout the year,” Hanrahan said. “If we've done something really great with custom content or co-branded spots and it works, you want to make sure you repeat it.”

ESPN presents a stadium full of examples that have scored for sponsors.

In December, Duluth Trading Co. returned for its third live commercial sponsorship with ESPN starring Elle Duncan and Michael Eaves. ESPN has also created commercials for Duluth Trading as part of a relationship that dates back to 2018, when it ran the first live ads on SportsCenter


Ram Truck worked with Disney CreativeWorks on its 'Built for Tailgating campaign (Image credit: ESPN)

Earlier this year, ESPN Creative Studio collaborated with financial services company Ally to introduce Direct Connect, a live split screen execution designed to create a more connected message to the viewer. The campaign featured SportsCenter anchor Kevin Negandhi.

To kick off the 2021 college football season, the Ram Truck brand worked with Disney CreativeWorks to launch its “Built for Tailgating” ad campaign. It included custom content with ESPN personalities Marty Smith, Jason Fitz and Gary Striewski that ran across broadcast, linear, digital and social.

Sports integrations are nothing new, dating back to NBC’s Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, but ESPN keeps bringing new technology to the party.

Hanrahan pointed to a recent campaign by Cheez It that used a 3D virtual studio. He also noted VFX technology that takes viewers directly from the game to a commercial message seamlessly. “It doesn’t even feel like a commercial break,” he said.

ESPN does advertising integrations on its digital and social platforms in addition to its cable channel.

“Technology continues to provide us platforms to do things that we wouldn't have been able to do, you know, call it three or four years ago,” he said. “But more important than the technology is the idea.”

To reach younger viewers, ESPN has been working with TikTok since 2019 and has become one of the most engaged brands on the platform, with special versions of College GameDay, ESPNFC and ESPNW. During the College Football Playoff, Striewski gave his followers a look behind the scenes at Goodyear’s tire art mascots.

While sports take place year round, some deals for sports integrations will be struck during the upcoming upfront market.

“That can range from something as simple as being the presenter of the starting lineups at an NBA game to utilizing VFX technology in a game,” Hanrahan said. “What I like to say is, we offer brand-building solutions. It's all about negotiation and spending level and where the money's going. Then we take all that into consideration and think about how we can work with brands."

He's now looking ahead to many advertisers pulling out the stops to support their commercials during the NBA Playoffs.  ■

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.