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Upfronts 2014: ESPN Readies New 'SportsCenter' Set

New York – SportsCenter will be moving into its new studio during the worldwide leader’s World Cup coverage next month.

Speaking with anchor Scott Van Pelt, Rob King, senior vice president of SportsCenter and news, told media buyers here at ESPN’s upfront at the Minskoff Theatre (the home to The Lion King) Tuesday morning that the sports’ programmer’s flagship show will unveil its new 10,000 square-foot-arena in late June.  At last year’s upfront, ESPN revealed schematics of the new digs, which were supplanted this go-round with actual shots from the facility at the Bristol, Conn.campus. King and Van Pelt talked up the enhanced video capabilities of the state-of-the-art set, which will also be more sponsor-friendly for brand integrations.    

One of the bedrocks of ESPN’s news /debate/info programming stable, Pardon The Interruption, will be around for myriad debates to come, as co-hosts Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser have inked multiyear extensions.

Along with ABC Sales president Geri Wang, Ed Erhardt, president of global customer marketing and sales at ESPN, introduced a family-friendly joint initiative between the Disney Co. cousins," Fan for Life."  Launching with Mother’s Day 2015 and extending through Dad’s Day that June, the sponsorable program will celebrate parents and the roles they play in kids’ participation in sports.

The endeavor, encompassing digital, social and print extensions across ABC and ESPN platforms, will showcase a series of co-branded vignettes featuring network talent sharing personal stories about their “Fan for Life.” Stories of parents and kids will be told on ABC’s Good Morning America, ESPN’s SportsCenter and women's platform, ESPNW.

ESPN is also conducting a new research initiative, Convergence Effectiveness Modeling, to gauge ad effectiveness across TV, digital, print and radio. The sports programming giant follows 24 brands—both ESPN sponsors and those not in its camp—combining third-party data with a survey that gathers information from 2,500 consumers a month. The study informs ESPN ad executives and clients about brand and ad awareness, purchase intent, brand perception and word of mouth and actions taken.

ESPN also introduced FastShare, through which fans can share embedded video highlights with just one tap.

Also on the digital front, network executives said after the meeting that ESPNFC’s revamped global site and app will launch on June 1, in full World Cup mode.

After the show, ESPN executive vice president of sales and marketing Sean Bratches, who appeared on-stage with Minnesota Vikings all-pro running back Adrian Peterson, expressed optimism about gaining significant distribution for the SEC Network, which kicks off on Aug. 14. Currently, the service, which will feature 1,000 events during its freshman year, including 45 football games, counts Dish Network, AT&T U-verse, Google Fiber and the National Rural Telecommunications cooperative as affiliates. The service has a dual pricing structure: a higher fee within the Southeastern Conference's 11-state region and a lesser price in areas beyond that footprint.

Erhardt said there has been strong interest in the new college football playoff system that will be in place for the first time after this season, which figures to feature an SEC representative. The conference had its seven-year BCS title game run stopped when Florida State topped Auburn in last year’s title tilt.

ESPN’s ad sales chief said the company was in a very strong position with World Cup sales across all platforms. He did say some inventory was in reserve as a hedge and opportunity relative to the fortunes of the U.S. men’s national team in trying to advance from Group G, this Cup’s Group of Death.