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ESPN Celebrates Milestone 'SportsCenter'

ESPN later this month plans to begin a promotional countdown to commemorate the network's 25,000th installment of SportsCenter, set to air August 25. The celebration also includes a nod to the memorable series of "This is SportsCenter" promotional spots that began in 1995.

The network and its ad-agency partner, Weiden & Kennedy, created 15-second and 30-second spots devoted to the 25,000th edition. They feature Hilltopper, the fuzzy pink mascot from Western Kentucky University, who is charged with logging the mountains of SportsCenter
tapes in a subbasement of the ESPN headquarters.

The spots are part of a company-wide effort to drum up exposure for the milestone episode, noted director of advertising and marketing Spence Kramer. No other series in the history of cable has aired more episodes, he said.

Like other "This is SportsCenter" ads, the new on-air spots feature the tongue-in-cheek humor that ESPN fans and insiders have come to expect.

"We wanted to stay inside the mindset that people have come to love," Kramer said.

Although the "This is SportsCenter" spots have historically relied on sports stars and celebrity fans, the real stars of the ads have been ESPN's on-air talent, said Kramer.

The new spots enlist SportsCenter
anchor Stuart Scott, who walks with Los Angeles Clippers forward Elton Brand through the halls of the ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn.

In the ongoing campaign, SportsCenter
is depicted as the center of the universe, so it's natural for sports figures to be found hanging around when the cameras start rolling for the spots, said Kramer.

ESPN fans gravitate toward the network not just to be kept up to date with sports scores and data, but because they consider it a friend with whom they can enjoy sports, the network contends.

"We take sports seriously, but we don't take ourselves seriously," Kramer said.

The Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing plans to honor "This is SportsCenter" with a Hall of Fame award at this week's Summit in Boston, an ESPN spokeswoman said.

"CTAM has recognized that very few companies stay with the same campaign for more than a few years," Kramer said. "If you look at every spot individually, there are winners and losers, but if you look at it as a collective, it's pretty amazing."

ESPN plans to promote the 25,000th SportsCenter
both online and on-air for 25 days leading up to the primetime event. The online promotion, "25 Days to 25K," will archive old SportsCenter

The network began debuting new SportsCenter
promotions online at in 2000. More than 64,000 users downloaded the first spot posted on the first day, with just a limited amount of promotion, Kramer said.

On SportsCenter
itself, athletes and celebrities will recall their favorite moments during the 25 days that precede the milestone episode. And ESPN will air five favorite "This is SportsCenter" promo spots on August 25.

Affiliates are being encouraged to help support the SportsCenter
campaign by running customizable cross-channel spots and print ads. Because the affiliates are selling their local advertising inventory, they should care about ratings, too, Kramer said.

"Fans of ESPN will stay through the commercial breaks because they want to see the SportsCenter
spots," Kramer said. "That's an advertiser's dream and a promotions department's dream as well."