ESPN Doubles Its Truck Fleet

ESPN is making the entertainment superhighway a bit more congested by adding a second semi truck to its fleet later this month.

"ESPN The Truck 2" will hit the promotional road in time for a San Francisco appearance March 28, co-branded with Comcast Corp, ESPN vice president of affiliate ad sales and marketing Jeff Siegel said last Wednesday.

Thirteen other markets have already been penciled in through Aug. 3, including Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, St. Louis, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York. Besides ESPN's vehicles, Country Music Television and Black Entertainment Television have their own big trucks, while Animal Planet has a rescue vehicle and C-SPAN a bus.

Many of the upcoming affiliate partners are Comcast or Time Warner Cable systems, noted Siegel, who did not specify the markets.

Comcast executives were unavailable for comment at press time.

Like the first ESPN The Truck, the new 53-foot truck will be "an ad-sales and marketing vehicle — no pun intended," Siegel said.

"People are not buying new products and services without experiencing them first," he said. Thus, this truck will use big-screen TV monitors and kiosks to showcase high-definition TV, ESPN Broadband, ESPN on Demand and its interactive ESPN Extra and ESPN Today, he explained.

Mazda will be the "ESPN The Truck 2" tour's presenting sponsor, Siegel said. As part of its deal, the automaker will display three cars, including the new Mazda 6 and another model that contains Sirius satellite radio.

New wrinkles

To bolster the fun value, there will also be an auto-racing video game and related contests, as well as a Sirius-sponsored audio booth and kiosks to promote that company's content.

The first semi bowed in September 2000. "We got a lot of learning from that, as to what consumers and affiliates want," Siegel said.

Among the changes: The experience is more interactive and open, as ESPN has scotched the initial truck's walk-through design.

One entire side of the new truck will open up, revealing exhibits, TV monitors and a branding tent that provides both cover and plugs for ESPN, its affiliates and its sponsors, according to Siegel.

To promote each stop along the trek, affiliates will run sponsor-taggable promos that announce the truck's arrival, its location and a brief rundown of the activities.

Mazda will contribute "significant" tie-in promo support in 15 markets that are also on its own "Rev It Up" tour, Siegel noted.

The truck tour now will, in effect, double ESPN's reach, with each semi slated to make 50 stops in a year's time, leaving two weeks for maintenance.

Siegel projects 10,000 to 20,000 visitors for each stop, which can last three or four days.

The first ESPN truck — which has its own separate sponsorship pact with the National Football League and NFL Youth, the grid league's community-service initiative — has been a key contributor to the network's hefty local ad-sales tallies each year.

The vehicle's "Tailgate with the Truck" party is one of several choices open to entrants in the network's "Football Fantasy" sweepstakes.

ESPN's NFL promotions, including the truck tour, amassed more than $30 million from local clients for more than 500 operators and interconnects last year, Siegel estimated.