- ESPN has hired the agency Droga5 for a marketing campaign that intends to address a more diverse and distracted viewer base both for its overall brand and its flagship program "Sportscenter," according to The Wall Street Journal.
- The Disney-owned cable network wants to target an audience beyond the stereotypical male sports fan, drawing in more women and also people interested in a wider variety of sports, Ed Erhardt, president of global sales and marketing at ESPN, told the Journal. Esports, a type of competitive video gaming, and more niche offerings like cycling could be included in that expanded coverage, and ESPN is also looking to reach more viewers watching on online platforms as well.
- Like other cable networks, ESPN has been hit by the cord-cutting phenomenon, losing 2.8 million cable TV subscribers since August 2016, according to Nielsen data cited by the Journal. Nielsen estimates the channel still has around 86 million subscribers, and ESPN reports it has 87.2 million subscribers including those paying for its subscription streaming services.
While ESPN's audience is far from small compared to the broader TV landscape, steep subscription declines in recent years, combined with the hefty prices the network pays to retain the long-term rights for sports broadcasting from organizations like the NFL, have placed it in a prickly position. Rebranding to focus on more niche offerings and also sports programming targeted at women will, if marketed well, attract fresh eyeballs while still providing a safe bet for advertisers that highly value live sports coverage and analysis.
ESPN expanding the number of sports it covers to include newer areas like professional esports comes as traditional powerhouses like the NFL are eyeing digital alternatives to TV. The NFL this summer signed a deal to stream 10 Thursday Night Football games with Amazon through its Amazon Prime Video service. Amazon paid $50 million for those content rights, along with reportedly tens of millions of dollars in free marketing for the NFL.
Esports, while not well-trod ground for advertisers, is earning more mindshare from the industry. Nielsen last week launched an esports-focused vertical, for example, and ESPN providing the first mainstream cable coverage of the sport is a smart play as interest will only continue to grow.
As the Journal notes, Droga5 appears to have its work cut out for it. Not only does the agency need to make ESPN an appealing sell to an entirely new audience, it also stands in the shadow of prior agency Wieden + Kennedy, which worked with the network for two decades and created the iconic "This is Sportscenter" campaign.