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  INDUSTRIAL ANALYSIS

About ESPN 

A Brief History 

ESPN was founded by father-son duo Bill and Scott Rasmussen, and officially launched at 7pm on September 7, 1979. Bill Rasmussen, after being fired from his job as a television sports reporter in 1978, conceived of the idea for a cable network that would feature Connecticut sports programming. When he discovered that buying a 24 hr satellite feed would ultimately be less expensive than buying blocks for a few hours a night, he rethought his original idea, and expanded to a 24hr nationwide network. This was a huge risk, considering that in 1979, there were no 24 hour networks. [1] However, once big investors, such as Getty Oil, took notice of the endeavor, ESPN was able to officially get off the ground, airing the first episode of SportsCenter on that exciting night in 1979. Thus, ESPN was born.

The first show to air on ESPN was Sportscenter, which “offers breaking news, highlights, features and in-depth analysis from award-winning journalists” and “averages 100 million viewers a month.” [2] SportsCenter continues to be a gem of ESPN original programming. Although SportsCenter was successful, ESPN did not garner the reputation it has today until it began broadcasting high profile games. ESPN's first high-profile athletic partnership was with the NBA, but that partnership ended in 1984 due to the NBA's doubts about ESPN (but was renewed 18 years later). ESPN's big break came in 1987 when ESPN gained partial rights to the NFL and began airing Sunday Night Football.  The arrival of the NFL on ESPN turned ESPN from just an average sports channel into the leading sports network. Today, ESPN has partnerships with all four American major league sports (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB), and also other American leagues and international leagues as well. 

ESPN broadcasts primarily from Bristol, Connecticut, but has offices in New York City, Seattle, Charlotte, NC, and Los Angeles. ESPN broadcasts 65 sports, 24 hours a day in 15 languages in more than 150 countries.

Production, Distribution, and Transmission 

ESPN is its own cable network, owned by two parent companies, Disney (owns 80%) and Hearst (owns 20%). [3] ESPN produces its own programming with its own talent, studios, producers etc. ESPN is distributed to over 90 million subscribers, and over the years has developed many different outlets for distributing a variety of sports programming to its loyal viewers.

Aside from the traditional ESPN channel, ESPN productions are also broadcast on ABC. ESPN has six domestic cable networks (listed below), which includes the traditional ESPN network, but also other specialized networks such as ESPNU which focuses on college sports or ESPN Deportes which is Spanish-language sports programming 

  • Six Domestic Cable Networks
  1. ESPN- launched 1979, currently in 99.5 M homes, ESPN HD launched in 2003
  2. ESPN2- launched 1993, 99.5 M, ESPN2 HD launched in 2005 
  3. ESPNews (all sports news)- launched 1996, 73.5 M, ESPNews HD launched in 2008 
  4. ESPNU (college sports news and coverage)- launched 2005, 72.5M, ESPNU HD launched in 2008
  5. ESPN Classic (classic sports moments and history)- purchased in 1997, 42.0 M 
  6. ESPN Deportes (Spanish-language sports coverage)- launched 2004, 5.3 M Hispanic homes [4]

Syndication: ESPN is syndicated via ESPN Regional Television. This is the largest syndicator of college sports, including the new SEC networks (football, men's and women's basketball, and Olympics), Big East and WAC (football and men's basketball), and Big 12. 

There are also ESPN subscription packages available for cable-viewer's purchase that include these specialized networks or programs.

Signature Programming and Genre Trends 

Most of the programming on ESPN is sporting events, whether live or tape-delayed. ESPN also features sports news such as their signature program SportsCenter, and sports talk shows. While live event programming and talk shows make up most of ESPN’s programming, ESPN also features the occasional sports-related documentary or original series. But whatever the style or theme of the program, ESPN remains dedicated to strictly sports-related programming, 24 hrs a day. 

Advertising and the Brand

Branding, Advertising and Promotional Techniques

ESPN's promotional and branding strategies are impressive to say the least. The term ESPN has become synonymous with television sports nationwide and although there is always local competition such as the YES Network for New York, ESPN has stayed on top of sports throughout the United States.

Through innovative camera angles and the ability to be on the field and in the action, ESPN has made viewing games on television just as good, if not better, than being at the game. This has personalized sports for the average viewer.

ESPN has also expanded their brand to multiple channels (for example, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN360). On top of that are the multilingual versions such as ESPN Deportes and the foreign versions in Asia, Australia, Brazil and the United Kingdom.

In order to keep ESPN contemporary, multiple iPhone Applications were created for different aspects of ESPN. There are ESPN SportsCenter, ESPN Radio and ESPN Fantasy Football just to name a few. This ingenious move allows ESPN fans to stay informed while on the go and keeps ESPN in their minds all the time.

Fantasy Sports Leagues are yet another way that ESPN promotes themselves. Fans of all ages are able to choose from athletes on all teams and make the best team possible through a "Draft". Each week, the players are scored and ranked based on how they have played and teams are then given a score or ranking. This allows the viewer to get more involved in the games. It also has the added bonus of more fans watching the games to see how their players are doing.

Yet another technique that ESPN employs is the sale of sports gear. Fans are able to wear their teams colors proudly, no matter the sport. Sports fans of all ages know that when they need a new jersey, ESPN is the place to go.

Lastly is ESPN Zone. This glorified sports bar features televisions, broadcasting all ESPN all the time, placed strategically throughout the restaurant. This restaurant has a variety of "game" food ranging from buffalo wings to hamburgers. Another prominent section is the screening room (in which the seats are comfortable recliners) where "The Game" is always playing. On top of all of this is the Sports Arena: a room filled with all the arcade games a twelve year old boy could ever dream of. All of this combines to become the ultimate location to watch the game with friends or take your son for his birthday party.[5]

Specific Target Audiences

ESPN's target audience includes all sports fans but the majority of viewers are males ranging in age from twelve to forty five years old. This is seen through their advertisers and specific sponsors across the range of shows that ESPN offers. Their advertisers include Bud Light, BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Lowe's Home Improvement, McDonald's and Subway - all brands that typically gear towards men and most of which are geared towards the middle class.

Scheduling

Since ESPN plays most games live, they don't really have to worry about putting certain programs up against other shows. People who want to watch the game are far more likely to tape another show in order to watch the game live. Because of this, ESPN has not had scheduling difficulties and shows such as Monday Night Football are usually number one in the ratings for that time slot.[6]

Ownership and Conglomeration

Ownership

In 1978, Stuart Evey, a top executive for Getty Oil, made a deal to buy a majority stake in ESPN.  After gaining some success in the early 1980s, ABC bought ESPN for $225 million in 1984.[7]  ABC held an 80% share and sold 20% to Hearst.  In 1996, the Walt Disney Company purchased ABC for $19 billion.[8]

Corporate Structure

ESPN's business and managment fuctions are divided into six specific areas as outlined by ESPN and ABC Sports President and co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, George Bodenheimer: content, technology, sales and marketing, international, finance and administration.[9]

  • The head of "Content" is executive vice president John Skipper, who oversees content in all forms for all ESPN and ABC sports television, radio, Internet, publishing, wireless, broadband and enterprise operations. The head of "Technology" is executive vice president Chuck Pagano, who is responsible for all technology sectors within ESPN, ensuring ESPN's efficient utilization and development of technology. The head of "Sales and Marketing" is executive vice president Sean Bratches, who oversees all affiliate and advertising sales, research, marketing, and special events.  This brings into one division ESPN's two primary revenue streams, affiliate and advertising sales, supported by marketing, research, and client support services. The head of "International" is executive vice president and managing director Russell Wolff, who leads initiatives around the world increasing the financial success of ESPN's international operations. The head of "Finance" is executive vice president and chief financial officer Christine Driessen, who oversees all financial operations including financial and program planning, strategic development, and office of the controller. The head of "Administration" is executive vice president Ed Durso, who oversees legal and government affairs, communications, facilities, human resources, and security. 

Corporate Partnerships

  • National Football League - ESPN currently hold rights to Monday Night Football and is working on procuring rights to stream Monday Night Football.[10]
  • Microsoft- ESPN has an exclusive partnership with Microsoft to stream ESPN content to XBOX systems via the online service XBOX Live.[11]
  • ABC- ESPN on ABC supplanted ABC Sports in 2006.[12]
  • Time Warner Cable - Disney recently renewed a deal with Time Warner Cable for continued access to its cable channels as well as access to streaming broadband capabilities for its websites, including ESPN3.com, which focuses on live events.[13] Time Warner Cable's Disney Properties represent 28% of its total programming outlays, "the most of any programmer." 
  • Verizon FiOS- Disney also recently agreed to a similar deal for all FiOS subscribers with the added ESPN Goal Line, which focuses on college football.[14]

TEXTUAL ANALYSIS

Monday Night Football

Monday Night Football is a show that airs on Mondays and shows one of the games that is playing that night. Kickoff time is at 8:30 and the games usually last around three hours. The game is enhanced by the commentary of Jon Gruden, Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski. The use of ex-athletes gives these commentators more credibility and allows audiences to put their trust in the comments that they make. They also are able to give anecdotes about when they were playing, which provides more depth. Throughout the game, instant replay and slow motion is used to help the viewer fully understand what happened and why certain calls have been made.

From 1970 to 2005 Monday Night Football aired on ABC, however, it was moved to ESPN. ESPN and ABC are both owned by Disney so the change made sense to most people with knowledge of the industry. One of the main reasons for this change was because ABC revenues from the show were not doing as well as they could have been and despite their best efforts, ABC could not get them back up.[15] The target audience of Monday Night Football

The schedule is made in April, therefore the game that airs is not necessarily the most important, or highly anticipated, game of the week. They do try to schedule some traditional rivalries at this time in order to promote the game to hardcore fans of each team. Throughout the years, however, this program has stayed on the top of the ratings and sports fans are keeping it there. Football has become the new American pastime and although not everyone plays it, the vast majority does enjoy watching it. ESPN has capitalized on this and promotes Monday Night Football during their other shows, such as SportsCenter.

One problem that ESPN faces is that the game has to be aired live. This usually causes the problem of fall-off in the beginning and end of the show because of the time difference across the nation. On the west coast, most men who watch the show do not return from work in time to see the beginning of the game. On the other hand, men on the east coast often have to get up early for work the next morning and therefore do not want to stay up late to see the end of the game. In addition, since the length of the game is always unknown, it is hard to schedule a show for directly afterwards, as the amount of time left in the time segment could be awkward.[16] One good thing about the timing of this program is that there are no other games on Monday night. ESPN is the only place to go for sports fans that want to watch a live game on Mondays.


SportsCenter

History of SportsCenter 

''SportsCenter is ESPN’s daily sports news program. SportsCenter airs throughout the day on ESPN, replaying the day’s scores and sports highlights. The show first aired in 1979 and was the first program to air on ESPN, and since then it has aired over 30,000 times. It was conceived by executive producer John Walsh, and apparently, on the first episode, co-anchor Lee Leonard said, “If you're a fan, what you will see in the next minutes, hours, and days to follow may convince you that you've gone to sports heaven."[17] This demonstrates how SportsCenter was an innovative show at this time, when a news style program completely devoted to sports was unheard of. Sportscenter is filmed in HDTV studios in Bristol, CT (the original site of the ESPN studios) and also in Los Angeles.


The Style ofSportsCenter

In the late 1980s executive producer John Walsh adopted a “newspaper style” for SportsCenter, meaning that the show began covering events in order of importance, rather than focusing simply on a specific sport. This also resulted in a more fragmented format of the show or "segments." 

SportsCenter is divided into segments and new segments are constantly being added depending on the season or changes in sports, etc. Some of the segments are Top Ten (best ten plays of the day, week, year, etc depending), Sunday Conversation (airing on Sundays, an interview with an athlete, coach, or someone involved in sports), Budweiser Hot Seat (a celebrity (sports related or not) will be asked to take on opinion on an athletic issue).

In what can be seen as an attempt to appeal to a wider audience and range of viewers, SportsCenter does not just highlight or feature athletes or those involved in sports. For example, comedian Will Ferrell was featured on the Sunday Conversation segment, and he was interviewed about sports, but he took a much more comedic tone in the interview. He offered the sportscaster some new taglines like “Holy Tornado!” or “Goodnight Doctor!"[18] 

Also,SportsCenter’s ad campaign “This is SportsCenter” does not solely use sports and athletics to promote the program. They use humor, timely social issues (climate change, for example), or celebrities to help promote their show in these seemingly irrelevant advertisements. For example, there is one advertisement that takes place in the ESPN cafeteria and Arnold Palmer walks up to the drink dispensers and calmly mixes lemonade and iced-tea while some ESPN executives look on in awe. As Palmer walks away one executive whispers, “That was awesome.”[19] This sort of ad, though still related to sports, is not using sports to highlight the program and entice viewers. Instead, it uses humor to try to convince viewers to watch the show, adopting a sort of “sports can be funny, too” mentality, which is seen in the Sunday Conversation segment with Ferrell. 


Target Audience

Sportscenter has an average viewership of 100 million viewers per month.[20] It’s target audience is the 18-34 year old market. Executive editor and executive vice president of ESPN Inc, John A. Walsh[21], says that Sportscenter tries to get younger viewers to “grow up with us as a sports magazine.”[22]

Program Scheduling

Sportscenter airs on ESPN on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at 6 p.m., 1 a.m., 2 a.m., and then from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. On Saturday, the program airs from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and retains the weekday evening schedule. Sportscenter also airs on ESPN news from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.[23]

Larger Strategies

This saturation of programming reinforces the notion that ESPN and Sportscenter (whose names are nearly synonymous at this point) are the definitive place for sports information and highlights. ESPN wants to associate any and all sports with Sportscenter. It wants Sportscenter to be a fixture for people in the mornings and the evenings, similar to the news.
Sportscenter is such an integral part of the ESPN program schedule because it creates a positive feedback loop between it and ESPN’s other programs. Sportscenter advertises watching other sports events shown on ESPN, and the other events on ESPN advertise Sportscenter so that viewers can catch anything they may have missed. This strategy of "Sportscenter all the time" is further exemplified by the ESPN Sportscenter app, currently available on the iPhone. [24]

AUDIENCE AND ONLINE ANALYSIS

Analysis of ESPN.com

ESPN.com is an all-encompassing sports website. The ticker at the top lets users select which live scores they wish to see, and users can get scores just as fast as anyone watching the game can see them. There is a myESPN option that lets users customize the ESPN website to their liking, so that they can select up to 7 of the sports they are most interested in to be featured prominently on their myESPN page. Users can follow their favorite teams and players, and participate in live chats using SportsNation, the interactive "user-friendly" section of ESPN.com. 

On the right hand side of the ESPN.com homepage is a list of featured headlines that range in topic—they might have to do with MLB playoffs or a 2 million-dollar ticket theft-- but they all are related to sports and sports news. Users have the option of customizing the headlines section by signing in and selecting the subjects that most interest them. 

There are many ways for users to interact with the ESPN website. There are boxes featuring surveys about sports trivia, live chats, videos and recaps of games, and the ability to customize the site according to personal preference.

The ESPN network is similar to other news networks in that it does not have very much fictional entertainment programming—or that is not why it appeals to viewers. ESPN calls itself "the worldwide leader in sports,: and prides itself on its 24/7 sports programming. In this way, ESPN differs from some networks that feature fictional entertainment programming. For example, NBC does not only feature sit-coms all the time, and MTV is not always music videos—or even music related. Because of this, the way fans interact with ESPN.com—as will be discussed later in this report—is different from the way fans might interact with the AMC.com website, for example. Fans can go to ESPN.com to check scores of a game they might have missed, whereas fans do not usually go to the AMC website to find out what happened in an episode they missed—they’ll watch the episode online instead, and then look at recaps or analyses. One difference between ESPN.com and other network websites is that often, an entire episode of a program can be found online, while it is more difficult to find an entire football game online. However, some cable providers allow ESPN subscribers to stream the channel online by logging in and filling out their cable information on ESPN.com.

Despite its inability to broadcast games online as easily as fictional programming is broadcast, ESPN.com is the go-to place for sports news. Just as the ESPN channels are the go-to channels for sports broadcasts, the website is the same, proving to be the leading website for the most comprehensive and live, up-to the minute sports news and information. ESPN.com follows in the footsteps of the ESPN television networks, maintaining the same dedication to 24/7 sports coverage.

Fans

The people who would be considered "fans" of ESPN are more likely fans of sports than fans of ESPN as a channel. However, there are many outlets on the ESPN website that draw fans in and allow them to actively participate in the games, players and shows. In fact, the ESPN website has the 17th highest rate of traffic of any American site on the Internet. The most common participant in the website is a male between the ages of fifteen and thirty-five who is accessing the website from either school or work.[25]

The ESPN website contains many activities for the avid sports fan. There is the SportsNation polling with a new question every day and many extra questions for people to respond to. SportsNation also contains chat rooms and videos. There is also the Fantasy Sports Leagues, which allow the active fan to take part in the action even when that is not necessarily possible. Both of these keep fans interacting not only with the sports but also with other fans and they create a network of people talking about sports and ESPN.[26]

Fans can actively engage with the website by creating a free profile and discussing sports together.  ESPN Conversations [27] allow fans to participate in a message board style forum, commenting on articles and engaging in a back and forth discussion about different sports headlines and expressing their own opinions.  "Live" conversations also occur between columnists and fans on a chat room style application [28].  Fans and columnists can discuss a game in real time (rather than commenting on headlines), leading to heated debates

Yet another aspect of the website is that of sports news and statistics. Whether they are quickly checking the final score of last night's game or reading in-depth accounts on the status of their favorite player, sports fans know that the place to go for everything sports is the ESPN website.

One more advantage that the website holds is the sale of sports memorabilia and clothing. Most sports fans have at least one item of clothing in support of their favorite team and the ESPN website is the place to get those items.

According to ratings and comments on alexa.com, a website which allows Internet users to rate their favorite (or least favorite) websites, the ESPN website does a fantastic job keeping users up to date on sports news. These fans are also in support of the journalists on the website and make it clear that the website is a perfect place to go to enjoy well-written sports news. Yet another plus that these users put forth is that the website is very easy to navigate. The only downside, according to these users, is the amount of pop-ups.[29]

Social Media

  • Twitter[30] - ESPN is very involved in the twitter community.  Frequent tweets often link followers to see scores or other sports news on the official ESPN website.  The "live feed" nature of twitter keeps fans up to date on all their sporting needs.  In addition to the main ESPN twitter account, other subaccounts are also available to follow, allowing fans to customize their ESPN twitter experience.  There are subaccounts for the NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL, MMA, college basketball, college football, New York, Los Angeles, and Boston.  There are also accounts that deal specifically with recruiting or drafting news.


  • Facebook[31] - Similarly, ESPN is also involved with the Facebook community.  ESPN has over 2.3 million fans on Facebook.  On Facebook, ESPN tries to fully integrate the fan into the experience of ESPN.  They offer things such as fan spotlight, which features a picture of a random sports fan on the page.  In addition, they let fans comment and ask questions which may be featured on certain programs.  The Facebook page also gives frequent polls, a simple way for a fan to give his input into the ESPN world.  The ESPN page also lets the user customize his own Facebook page with ESPN widgets, which display things like box scores, analysis, and headlines.  It even has a Facebook game called ESPNU College Town in which you create a customized college and recruit athletes.


  • Youtube[32] - ESPN's Youtube channel features clips from a wide array of ESPN programming.  The channel features clips from shows like Sportscenter and Outside the Lines, but also has clips of many sports events and news conferences/interviews.  The channel also integrates user generated content by featuring a playlist called "Your Highlight."  This particular part of the page offers the chance for ESPN fans to upload clips of their local sports teams, further blurring the line between passive fan and active fanatic. 

References

  1. "The Journey Begins-Abruptly!." How It Started n. pag. Web. 7 Oct 2010. http://www.espnfounder.com/how_it_started.htm.
  2. "ESPN Fact Sheet ." ESPN MediaZone Summer 2010 : n. pag. Web. 7 Oct 2010. http://espnmediazone3.com/wpmu/
  3. "Company Overview." Walt Disney Company n. pag. Web. 7 Oct 2010. http://corporate.disney.go.com/corporate/overview.html.
  4. ESPN Fact Sheet. ESPN Media Zone http://espnmediazone3.com/wpmu/.
  5. Official Site. 8 October 2010. ;http://www.espnzone.com;
  6. Official Site. 7 October 2010. ;lt;http://www.espn.com;
  7. http://www.easterneronline.com/2.4793/founder-of-espn-discusses-its-success-1.647998
  8. http://articles.sfgate.com/1995-08-01/news/17813145_1_cap-cities-abc-stock-capital-cities
  9. http://corporate.disney.go.com/news/corporate/2005/2005_1006_espnreorg.html
  10. http://www.sportsbusinessjournal.com/article/65279
  11. http://newteevee.com/2010/06/14/e3-xbox-live-gets-exclusive-espn-partnership-video-chat/
  12. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2006/writers/richard_deitsch/08/10/media.circus/
  13. http://www.multichannel.com/article/456666-Disney_Time_Warner_Cable_Finalize_Programming_Deal.php
  14. http://www.multichannel.com/article/458168-Verizon_FiOS_Disney_ESPN_Media_Networks_Group_Ink_Advanced_Media_Carriage_Pact.php
  15. "Monday Night Football." Mahalo.com: Questions, Answers, How To's and Coupons. Web. 04 November 2010. ;http://www.mahalo.com/monday-night-football.
  16. "Monday Night Football." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 04 November 2010. ;http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monday_Night_Football&.
  17. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SportsCenter
  18. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCSQyLpacLYp=B7BE78267D1B79EC&a;playnext=1&aindex=6
  19. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLxKSvkpE1Y
  20. http://espnmediazone3.com/wpmu/
  21. http://www.espnmediazone3.com/us/2009/11/john-a-walsh/
  22. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/sports/july-dec99/espn_9-8.html
  23. http://www.fangsbites.com/2010/08/sportscenter-expands-7-hours-and-airs.html
  24. http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/espn-scorecenter/id317469184?mt=8-mpt=uo%3D2
  25. "Espn.go.com Site Info." Alexa: the Web Information Company. Web. 18 November 2010. http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/espn.go.com
  26. Official Site. 18 November 2010.
  27. http://myespn.go.com/s/conversations/show/story/5878632
  28. http://espn.go.com/nba/dailydime/_/page/dime-101203/daily-dime
  29. "Espn.go.com Site Info." Alexa: the Web Information Company. Web. 18 November 2010. http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/espn.go.com;.
  30. http://twitter.com/ESPN
  31. http://www.facebook.com/ESPN#!/ESPN?v=wall
  32. http://www.youtube.com/user/espn?blend=1