ESPN SportsNation gets TV makeover

Upfront pitch includes focus on digital, female viewers, stars

NEW YORK -- ESPN2 is taking a cue from the Web and bringing ESPN.com's popular SportsNation feature to the TV screen with ESPN Radio personality Colin Cowherd and Michelle Beadle as hosts.

The one-hour weekday live show, which the network says will be "fueled by fan interaction and focused on fun," launches July 6 at 4pm with Toyota signed up as a sponsor.

The announcement was made at the ESPN upfront in midtown Manhattan Tuesday morning, which also featured guest appearances by the likes of Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, Joba Chamberlain of the NY Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

ESPN and ABC Sports president George Bodenheimer also welcomed Robert Iger, CEO of parent company Walt Disney, and Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group, at the event at Times Square's Nokia Theater.

"The fans will have unprecedented input in the show's daily rundown," said SportsNation coordinating producer Jamie Horowitz about the new show. "Our goal is to bring the fans into our production meetings. The fans choose the topics, provide the angles and decide how much Brett Favre talk is really needed."

Overall, digital was a key theme in ESPN's pitch to ad buyers Tuesday. For example, ESPN unveiled an expanded digital rights deal for the Wimbledon tennis tournament that will allow for nearly 800 hours of live ESPN360.com coverage and more live mobile streaming. Also, ESPN ScoreCenter for the iPhone will be a free application with customizable scores and stats. And SportsNation on ESPN.com will be redesigned later this month with a more blog-style chronological layout and direct tie-ins to the new TV show.

A video package also made the point to advertising buyers that the choice of screens has redefined people's viewing habits and created more opportunities for marketers. "Thanks to the Internet, daytime is the new primetime," it said. "Thanks to mobile, weekends are the new primetime."

Among the other key messages ESPN took to advertisers to prove its appeal: The network is aggressively pushing its content and ad opportunities across all platforms, allowing an average of 104 million people per week interact with the ESPN brand; women watch sports and especially ESPN, too; and men today are making household buying decisions that they used to leave to their wives in the old days.

In more programming news, ESPN2 will also debut the "Scott Van Pelt Radio Show" in the 3 p.m. time slot starting July 6 as well. It joins other televised ESPN radio shows such as "Mike & Mike in the Morning."

Meanwhile, Mike Tirico is expanding his ESPN on-air role, adding a weekly program devoted to college and pro football Fridays in the 7-9 p.m. slot and handling play-by-play for the NBA Finals, among others.

In other key announcements Tuesday, ESPN said that cable giant Comcast has agreed to add ESPNU and ESPN360.com to its lineup, while satellite TV provider DirecTV is adding ESPNU. The distribution deals boost ESPNU's reach to 46 million homes and ESPN360.com's to 41 million.

ESPN personality Kenny Mayne had the audience in stitches with a joke about the current economic downturn and its effect on the ad market. "Due to the recession, we're not accepting ad revenue," he quipped.
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