Upfronts 2011: ESPN Has Plenty To Offer, Even If NFL Punts On The Season

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New York -- Although pro football sits squarely atop the standings of America's favorite sports, ESPN had plenty of other games, gadgets and GRPs to talk about during its upfront presentation to advertisers here Tuesday.
Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews Jr. and ESPN executive vice president of content John Skipper both expressed confidence that the NFL and its players association would tackle their lockout differences. "They're going to play," said Skipper. Perhaps pausing for comic effect, he then noted: "I don't know when they're going to play, but when they do we'll carry it.
Executives, league officials, players, fans and media buyers hope that will be the case and MNF, cable's top-rated all-time show, will be in play for viewers and clients.
Meantime, the network emphasized that it had plenty of other choices that ad executives could huddle about. Heading that list was "labor strife free football" also known as the college game, which will feature as Brent Musberger is wont to say the following dandies: LSU-Oregon, Boise State-Georgia, Ohio State-Miami, Nebraska-Wisconsin, Oklahoma-Texas and, in the first night game at "The Big House," Notre Dame-Michigan. ESPN's new contract with the ACC and its newly signed pact with the Pac-12, starting with the 2012-13 school year, were also afforded promotional props during the presentation.
With anchor Hannah Storm and "91er" Julie Foudy taking the stage, this summer's 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup from Germany was also kicked around, as were "HERoics." A series of six short films on women involved in futbol, HERoics begins June 25 on ESPN2 and will also air on July 2 on ABC. The docs will also be housed on www. espnW. com, the women sports website that bowed in April.

Continuing on this side of the pitch, ESPN, which also airs Major League Soccer and English Premier League matches, has the rights to UEFA Euro 2012, taking place from June 8 through July 1, from Poland and the Ukraine
Officials also talked up a revamped weekday afternoon lineup for ESPN2 , beginning Sept. 12, which will showcase Numbers Don't Lie, aimed at fantasy sports fans at 3:30 p.m. and Dan Le Batard is Highly Questionable, based in Miami, at 4 p.m. The series rookies will be flanked at the front end by NASCAR Now and at the back end by Jim Rome Is Burning and Sports Nation, which is being moved into the 5 p.m. hour.
Looking to buttress one of its own franchises, ESPN X Games, which was established in 1995, will expand from a pair of events in the U.S. to a total of six, with four competitions scheduled internationally, beginning in 2013. Potential cities will bid to host the Games for three-year periods; decisions are expected early in 2012.

ESPN will also journey with "Kenny Mayne's Wider World of Sports," in which the irreverent host will travel the world learning about regional sports, while introducing American games to the locals. The sizzle reel found Mayne sporting his overhand road bowling technique. J.C. Penney is on board as the first sponsor of the new series.

Along with changes in "The Chase," ESPN's telecasts of the final 10 races of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will feature "NASCAR NonStop." Billed by Skipper as "sportus non-interruptus," the split-screen format will show the advertisement on the left side of the screen and the continuation of the racing action to the right. Before dividing the screen, ESPN will deploy a screen wipe tied to the sponsor. This format, also retaining the drivers' track order on ticker's top, will be utilized after the midway point of the races, following the traditional-commercial breaks during the first half of the competitions.
Channeling the worldwide leader's any screen mantra, ESPN executive vice pressident for sales and marketing Sean Bratches pointed to the 2.2 million people using ESPN smart-phone apps daily. "That's scale. That's engagement," he said, before touting WatchESPN. Come October, that service will be able to incorporate "existing creative and customized content." Currently, 20 million Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks and Verizon FiOS customers have access to the WatchESPN app.