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Upfronts 2011: ESPN Flexes Its Marketing Muscle

Click here for complete coverage of the 2011 upfronts
With live sports gaining ratings and growing ad revenues,
ESPN used its upfront presentation Tuesday to reinforce its position, introduce
new shows, show off new technology and remind sponsors how it helps drive

Ed Erhardt, president of customer marketing and sales at
ESPN, said he expected a strong upfront thanks to an unrivaled slate of
sports that create engagement with fans on multiple screens, particularly

On mobile, ESPN said it would begin selling spots on its
WatchESPN app for smart phones and tablets beginning during the college
football season. Sean Bratches, executive VP for sales and marketing, said that
2.2 million people are already using an ESPN app. "That's scale. That's
engagement," he said.

The presentation included testimonials from marketers
Gillette, Taco Bell, Phillips Van Heusen and Edible Arrangements on how
working with ESPN juiced sales, drove traffic and crashed servers.

"If you have a male target, it's almost impossible not to be
on ESPN," said Tom Winner, media director, Wieden + Kennedy, whose clients
include Nike.

During the presentation, Saturday
Night Live's
Seth Meyers, who hosts the ESPYs in his spare time, noted that
he was surprised that ESPN even needed to have an upfront. But Page Thompson, CEO
of Omnicom Media Group North America, said the event, complete with Lakers
cheerleaders, college mascots, and a gaggle of the networks on air talent "reinforces
the strength we know ESPN has, it's entertaining and it gets you excited about
the network."

ESPN made some announcements during its upfront:

  • It said it was emphasizing
    new programming on ESPN2 with two new afternoon studio shows: Dan Le
    Batard is Highly Questionable
    , based in Miami, and Numbers Don't Lie,
    which should appeal to fantasy sports fans.
  • ESPN announced that during
    coverage of the final 10 races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, the action
    will not be interrupted by commercials. Instead the network will deploy
    its "NASCAR NonStop" format that will feature a split screen showing racing
    action, a leader board and a prominent ad. "You can't miss the ad and you
    won't miss a moment of action," said John Skipper, executive VP of
    content, who dubbed it "sportus non-interruptus." Fox has also begun
    showing non-stop action on its NASCAR broadcasts and Turner Sports has
    experimented with a similar approach.
  • Leading up to the women's
    World Cup in soccer, the network will present HERoics documentaries. The
    series of six short films on women involved in the sport begins June 25 on
    ESPN2 and will also appear on espnW, the sports website for women.
  • The ESPN X Games will be
    expanded with four events outside the U.S. joining two in America,
    starting in 2013. Potential cities will bid to host the new events,
    joining Aspen, Los Angeles and Tignes, France.
  • ESPN Deportes plans to air
    its first original scripted series, El Diez, a 10-epsisode drama about a
    professional soccer player in Mexico City.

With the NFL in flux because of the lockout, ESPN emphasized
its coverage of the college game, or what it called "labor strife free
football." It highlighted early-season matchups on Fridays and Saturdays, some
in primetime, featuring top ranked and popular teams including its Sept. 3
kickoff pitting LSA versus Oregon. The season concludes with the Bowl
Championship Series and the BCS Championship Game, all of which are televised
by ESPN.