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ESPN Gas Card Drives Sub Growth

ESPN Inc. stepped up the gas in a recentaffiliate-marketing campaign geared toward driving tune-in to the network's 1999NASCAR programming schedule, which winds up late this week.

To help drive new subscriber acquisitions, CenturyCommunications Corp. -- which has since been purchased by Adelphia Communications Corp. --offered $10 prepaid gas cards to customers who signed up for the operator'sfull-service cable.

The co-branded gas card features a full-color graphic ofNASCAR vehicles, designed for its collectors' appeal among NASCAR fans.

"Even if you don't follow NASCAR, the gas cardhas universal appeal" to anyone who drives, said Rebecca DiPanni, who wasbasic-product manager for Century before the MSO closed its deal with Adelphia.

Century had run similar campaigns promoting individualprogramming networks in the past. "We wanted to promote the strength and value of ourbasic lineup," DiPanni said, adding that the MSO had a lot of success withuniversally appealing giveaways such as phone cards and single-use cameras.

Eileen Allegro, senior account executive for ESPN'sNortheast region, said Century approached the network with the gas-card marketing conceptlast spring. "It took us a good six months to prepare for this," she said,adding that affiliates don't always have that much time to devote to planning asingle promotion.

DiPanni estimated that Century distributed 12,000 gas cardsduring the three-week promotion, which ended in late August. The operator sent more than150,000 direct-mail pieces promoting the offer to nonsubscribers in most of the MSO'smarkets. In some systems, the cards were used in door-to-door sales campaigns instead.

Allegro said the acquisition campaign was so successfulthat ESPN hopes to develop similar gas-card campaigns with other affiliates, perhaps tiedto other sporting events, early next year.

Attention to detail was crucial in this campaign, whichrequired a bit more implementation than some simple product giveaways. Because the cardsare accepted only at gas stations that honor MAC (Money Access Center) or relatedelectronic debit processors, Century sent out a "frequently asked questions"sheet with each gas card explaining what to look for when purchasing fuel.

"Century worked with the gas-card company and foundout which [oil companies accepted the cards] in which states," Allegro said.

Beyond bringing new subscribers to the fold, Century alsohelped to drive tune-in to ESPN through cross-channel spots devoted to NASCAR and printedschedules of NASCAR races on ESPN and ESPN2, which were available as billstuffers and ashandouts at Century's walk-in centers.

In addition to serving as value-added incentives, thegiveaways also offered Century and its programming partners off-channel exposure whileviewers were out and about, DiPanni said.

Although the $10 card could easily be spent in a singlefill-up, some recipients might have chosen to keep it around longer for emergency use,DiPanni said. The cards were set to expire at the end of the year.