- ESPN is running a activation called "Who's In," where an initial group of four college football superfans camped out atop a 45-foot high billboard in downtown San Jose, California, near Levi's Stadium, where the National Championship Game will be played on Jan. 7, according to news shared with Marketing Dive. Each participant represented one of the four semifinal teams: the Alabama Crimson Tide, Clemson Tigers, Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Oklahoma Sooners.
- The contest winners first climbed up to the billboard on Dec. 27. Representatives for the Sooners and Fighting Irish were eliminated on Dec. 29, coinciding with losses for their teams, while the remaining Clemson and Alabama fans will continue on until the championship. While on the billboard, they're participating in activities and challenges to win cash and prizes, some of which are based on fan engagement on social media.
- The person representing the winning championship team will be named the "most adventurous and dedicated fan" and score prizes. ESPN received nearly 700 video testimonials from people vying to participate in the promotion. The campaign was created with the agency RED, IMG LIVE and Catalyst and is being livestreamed on the WatchESPN app and ESPN3, with additional integrations in regular ESPN programming. Football fans can follow the event on social channels using the hashtag #ESPNBillboard.
ESPN is tying traditional out-of-home (OOH), social media marketing and digital streaming content together with its "Who's In" campaign ahead of the college football championship game next week. By having the participants' experience mirror that of their teams, with some being eliminated and competing against one another in games and activities, the network could drive engagement from their respective fan bases looking to extend some on-the-field rivalries.
ESPN is also leveraging the 12-day promotion to stoke interest in its online streaming capabilities in the lead-up to what's sure to be a closely watched event as the Tigers and Crimson Tide square off. ESPN has been hit by serious churn and subscriber losses in recent years as cord-cutting has accelerated, with the network more often leaning into streaming and digital video as a means to attract eyeballs, especially from a younger crowd that watches TV less frequently.
Research suggests that sports fans, broadly, are more often seeking out content, including areas ESPN focuses on like interviews, post-game analysis and highlights, on online platforms rather than live TV. ESPN's digital strategy has included sharing more content on third-party apps like YouTube, which the network previously took a hiatus from, and Twitter, along with bolstering its ad offerings on proprietary streaming platforms.
Like ESPN, some brands catering to college football fans have shifted toward experience-led marketing strategies for the 2018 season. Nissan, for example, took its College Football Mobile Tour to schools around the country on game day to engage consumers with interactive activations before games. The campaign featured a 50-foot converted semi-truck that included games using biometrics and a 360-degree photo booth.