Upfronts 2012: ESPN All Atwitter with Cross-Platform Campaigns

New York -- ESPN is flanking its sports rights, as well as some major events it's covering from the outside, with digital and social media elements.

At its upfront presentation to advertisers here on May 15, ESPN said it's teaming with Twitter on a number of cross-platform, interactive and custom ad campaigns, around such events as the Global X Games, Road to the BCS National Championship, Super Bowl, World Series, NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament and NASCAR Chase for the Cup.

First up: "GameFace," which will tip off during next month's NBA Finals, with users asked to post "game face" photos of themselves during the basketball games with the #gameface hashtag. When the buzzer sounds at the end of each championship-round contest, ESPN NBA Tonight analysts will highlight the competition and reveal the best photographs on-air. The best photos will also be featured in a photo gallery on ESPN.com/NBA. At the conclusion of The Finals, ESPN basketball analyst Jalen Rose is expected to tweet his top five favorite #GameFace entries before revealing the final winner, who will receive a tour of the ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn. On Twitter, #GameFace will be backed by Twitter's Promoted Products suite, including a promoted trend during The Finals, and the experience also will be touted on the @NBAonESPN Twitter handle.

The goal: to capitalize on Twitter's significant scale and interaction, with both the social media platform and the worldwide leader selling against the effort. After the event, Ed Erhardt, president of global customer marketing and sales, said ESPN had just put the property into the market and was looking to score sponsorship support.

ESPN again declared its love for sports documentaries -- both in long- and short-form -- at its upfront, which was hosted by Mike Greenberg and Sage Steele. A second round of its "30 for 30" series will premiere in October, with projects focusing on the 1982-83 North Carolina State men's basketball team, helmed by the late Jim Valvano, that claimed the NCAA title on Lorenzo Charles last-second dunk. ESPN will also let viewers get to know Bo: Jackson, the athlete extraordinaire.

For its part, Grantland.com will jump in with "30 for 30 Shorts." The sportswriters' site, led by Bill Simmons, will also benefit from the debut of dedicated YouTube channel this summer that will spotlight its leader and other contributors.

As previously announced, ESPN is working on a series of distaff sports documentaries as part of its "Power of IX" initiative that is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the landmark Title IX legislation. The "Nine for IX" films, executive-produced by Good Morning America anchor and ESPN alumna Robin Roberts and Tribeca Productions co-founder Jane Rosenthal, will air on ESPN in primetime, as well as on ABC on Saturdays, beginning in summer 2013.

The upfront also featured plenty of pigskin pitching. The network's top analyst Kirk Herbstreit and sideline reporter and College GameDay anchor Erin Andrews flagged the college game, with accompaniment from friends from Herbie's alma mater: mascot Brutus Buckeye and many members of The Ohio State Marching Band.

Touting its improved schedule, Monday Night Football boothmates Jon Gruden and Mike Tirico pointed to a number of NFC East battles and a couple of appearances by new Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. They also talked up "NFL-ESPN Primetime Payoff," a pick-em game based on MNF, where participants collect points based on correct picks throughout the 2012 NFL campaign. The top picking player will be rewarded with $50,000, while those scoring points will gain an attendant number of chances to win the overall grand prize of $1 million in a random drawing. Social media integrations include message boards and the submittal of halftime questions for consideration via Twitter hashtag #primetimepayoff.

In an interview after the presentation Erhardt said that MNF was the No. 1 show on Monday nights and that NBC's Sunday Night Football was TV's top show overall. "Primetime football is appointment viewing and continues to perform extraordinary well," he said. Erhardt added that ABC and ESPN's college football on Saturday nights, while not delivering ratings as big as those generated on Sundays and Mondays, are the top shows on the final night of he week. They will have more competition this fall with Fox's commitment to athletics, including Pac-12 football.

Asked if the football market had moved for ESPN, Erhardt said "we're in conversations with everybody right now. Obviously, there is a lot of interest in football. I think the notion that they've moved, that it's happened, and we're all with our feet on the desk and ready for the next round of golf is wrong."

As to the NBA championship, Erhardt said ESPN/ABC was in "great shape. We're going to see another rush when it's figured out who is going to be playing in The Finals."