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ESPN: Embraces Fans, New Tech

In an embrace of social media and new technology, ESPN gave the ball to Michelle Beadle and Colin Cowherd, hosts of the social media-savvy SportsNation, to anchor this year’s upfront pitch at the Nokia Theatre in New York. The move marked a departure from the sports media giant’s SportsCenter theme, the signature show that anchored ESPN’s upfront pitch the last two years.

“Technology is clearly changing our business,” said Ed Erhardt, president of customer marketing and sales. “Some see it as a potential threat. We see it as a chance to lead.”

The network touched on stalwart programs like Monday Night Football and its critically acclaimed 30 for 30 documentary series, but mostly focused on new initiatives like the launch of ESPN 3D and a new signature show for college sports network ESPNU.

The 3D technology push takes off in June, when ESPN 3D, which has distribution agreements in place with Comcast and DirecTV, features 25 matches from the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

The network also announced social media-driven U:Nite, a nightly show starting in spring 2011 on ESPNU which will explore sports and pop culture.

ESPN is also making a play toward high school sports with ESPN RISE, a brand targeting high school athletes.

MNF analyst John Gruden introduced “Year of the Quarterback” programming, where the most celebrated position in American sports will be analyzed in 2011.

ESPN Deportes announced it will launch in the first quarter of 2011 Nacion ESPN, a Spanish- language sports TV show fueled by fan interaction and modeled after SportsNation.

In the mobile sphere, ESPN is preparing launches of apps for its ESPN Local brand. Dallas will be the first market to launch. As Erhardt said: “We’re focused on what’s next.”