ESPN is leveraging the capabilities of its ESPN Edge Innovation Center to promulgate sports media innovation with meaningful, impactful partnerships. The network launched the subset of its business two years ago, a sector that has been behind the development of immersions within live game broadcasts and the creation of new alternate-style presentations. These partnerships are centered on maximizing the potential of the technology, along with finding new opportunities to create and utilize the breadth of the network’s complete portfolio.
“We never stop looking ahead,” ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro said, “and in that regard, the ESPN Edge Innovation Center is doing some incredible work with our partners.”
Tony Reali, the host of Around the Horn on ESPN, returned to lead the conference just after taping his show at the network’s studios in New York City. In his opening remarks, he reflected on the progress the company has made and the potential innovation can present for sports media content in the future.
“…The jolt it gave to the industry is something we’re incredibly proud of here at ESPN,” Reali said. “it’s an opportunity for all of us to know the future is right there within our reach, and we do that with our partnerships with tech-forward companies.”
Kevin Lopes, ESPN vice president of sports business development and innovation, participated in the opening panel, titled “Powering the Future of Sports Media Innovation.” With ESPN Edge entering its third year of operation, he was prompted to define what the platform is doing to help lead the industry forward.
The network has a plethora of live game and studio content across several of its platforms, but continues to innovate around those properties through the Edge division of its business.
“The textbook answer is really it’s powering the future of sports media innovation through best-in-class partnerships,” Lopes said. “We also support business development, and the business development deal, you’re trying to raise revenue; make money, [and] go where the deal provides you. But at innovation, we have the ability to pick our partner. We have the ability to be uber-selective on who we’re going to allow to innovate with us.”
The worldwide leader in sports currently has three partners involved with ESPN Edge – Accenture; Microsoft and Verizon – and it is considering adding one to three more down the road. Yet it is also remaining intentional about its course of action and how to best effectuate its goals.
In the last year, ESPN has worked with other areas of The Walt Disney Company to build its portfolio of alternate presentations, such as Toy Story Funday Football and the NHL Big City Greens Classic. Moreover, it has introduced new technologies across different properties, such as volumetric video capture and analytics immersion, granting viewers the ability to gain more information from their viewing experience. After the company analyzes the marketplace and finds areas to consider for deliberation, it brings the information to its creative team to ideate on the topic and come towards an informed decision.
“There’s a poster in the office in Bristol that says, ‘Discuss, debate, decide, align,’” Walker divulged. “That’s an invitation to take on a lot of opinion; to take on a lot of conversation, and sometimes it’s not all the same thing, but then you get to the important part which is ‘decide.’ When the decision is made, we all line up behind that and we all go after the thing. It’s that mechanism that I think empowers the culture of ESPN generally, but it is exceedingly useful to innovation.”
David Roberts, the network’s head of event and studio production, overseeing both the WNBA and women’s college basketball broadcasts, along with studio shows such as Get Up, First Take and The Pat McAfee Show also spoke at the conference. Earlier in the week, First Take broadcast live from Savannah State University and Winston-Salem State University, the alma maters of Shannon Sharpe and Stephen A. Smith. The idea to visit these HBCUs came from Sharpe joining the show in September, and turned out to be one of the most fulfilling and memorable projects of Roberts’ entire career in television.
“You have a good idea and you execute it through the essence of teamwork, collaboration and cooperation of all aspects of ESPN,” Roberts said, “and that’s what happened.”
Since the addition of The Pat McAfee Show to the network’s daily programming lineup, numbers for ESPN’s YouTube channel have significantly risen. As part of his deal, McAfee’s show is available to watch on ESPN, ESPN+ and live on the network’s YouTube channel, a multi-tiered distribution approach that is paying dividends over its first several months on the air. The rest of the new weekday lineup emphasizes the aspect of blending sports conversation with fun and levity, an approach that has resonated with the audience as the programs sustain and augment total viewership.
“The fun happens with Pat McAfee, who’s also very much an information person, but he has fun,” Roberts said. “So what you have in the morning with Greeny, Stephen A. and McAfee is you have distinctive content; distinctive personalities who will translate not just on the linear platforms, but the innovation that happens on all the other platforms.”
ESPN’s departments interface within their work, all of which equip the network’s in-house creative studio to thrive consistently. Originally referred to as ESPN Creative Services, Tina Thornton, executive vice president of creative studio and marketing, enacted the name change to underscore the fact that they serve as partners rather than service providers. The group has worked with ESPN Edge on several projects over the years, including alternate presentations, and continues to forge a mutually beneficial partnership. One of its upcoming projects centers around the reveal and launch of ESPN BET, which is fostering its own identity that encompasses and modifies elements of the ESPN brand.
“ESPN BET – both from a creative studio and marketing side – the way that we were able to bring together some thoughts surrounding that; the entire brand identity that is very bold and unique and young,” Thornton said. “It looks a little different than ESPN, yet it’s still the ESPN brand.”
Thornton also revealed during the conference that one of the company’s great innovations, the NHL Big City Greens Classic will return in the spring. The company debuted the animated alternate broadcast in March, taking advantage of NHL tracking data to produce a riveting experience aimed at attracting younger fans.
Jay Snowden, PENN Entertainment chief executive officer and president, was also on stage at the event, taking part in a discussion with ESPN’s Vice President of Sports Betting and Fantasy, Mike Morrison. Snowden explained how the partnership with ESPN-Penn came together, what they hope to achieve moving forward, and shared a few slides to highlight various ways the brand will enter and attempt to cut through in a crowded marketplace. A deeper dive into ESPN BET’s launch and its plans for the future will be showcased on BSM this upcoming Tuesday, Nov. 14.
As the sports media landscape endures a shift concurrent with altered consumption trends and new technologies, ESPN is taking a proactive approach to ensure it does not fall behind or get caught off guard. ESPN Edge is an essential part of the future of the network, and a component with the potential to continually demonstrate indispensable value both on short-term and long-term endeavors.
“We’re proud of what Edge and our partners have accomplished in the last couple of years,” Pitaro said. “It’s important work, and it’s innovative work, but we also know that we’re just getting started over here.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
SEC Commissioner Tells Pat McAfee Someone at ESPN Leaked 2024 Schedule Without Permission
“We were trying to protect it. Someone at ESPN apparently leaked it.”
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey isn’t particularly thrilled that his new top broadcast partner leaked a portion of next year’s schedule a bit early.
During an appearance on the Pat McAfee Show, which just so happens to be an ESPN property, Sankey mentioned his displeasure at the Worldwide Leader for leaking a portion of the 2024 SEC schedule early. According to Sankey, the league and the network agreed to release the schedule together in the near future.
“We were trying to protect it,” Sankey said. “Someone at ESPN apparently leaked it,” according to Yahoo Sports college football reporter Ross Dellenger.
While leaks in the media space are hardly a new phenomenon, especially when it comes to something as desirable as a football conference’s yearly schedule, a leak this early in the newly-formed ESPN-SEC relationship is less than ideal. Starting next season, ESPN will take over as the SEC’s primary broadcast partner, assuming the position CBS had long held for decades.
In the leaked portion of the schedule, the Georgia Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide will play in the regular season for just the third time in the past 15 years. We also know the Bulldogs will play the debuting Texas Longhorns in Texas, while the Tide will play the other Oklahoma Sooners on the road.
Jeff Kotuby is a nationally-published journalist with bylines on many popular broadcasting and pop culture sites, including The Streamable, eBaum’s World, Twin Galaxies, and more. Jeff grew up in the shadows of New York City and cultivated his love for sports media with the classic broadcasting voices of the area, like Mike & The Mad Dog, Mike “Doc” Emerick, and Michael Kay. You can reach Jeff on Twitter @JeffKotu3y.
Jim Boeheim Making Analyst Debut on ACC Network, Joining The CW
Former Syracuse Orange basketball head coach Jim Boeheim will make his debut as an analyst on Saturday, Dec. 2 on the ACC Network. Boeheim will be on the broadcast for the matchup between Florida State and North Carolina at 2 PM ET featuring play-by-play announcer Wes Durham and sideline reporter Cory Alexander.
Boeheim will make his studio debut on Tuesday, Dec. 5 during halftime of the men’s prime-time doubleheader games on the day – which consists of Central Connecticut against Boston College at 6 PM ET, followed by Cornell taking on Syracuse at 8 PM ET.
On the program, he will be joined by host Kelsey Riggs and analyst Luke Hancock, and he will also remain on the air for the 10 p.m. edition of Nothing But Net, the network’s signature basketball show.
Additionally, Jim Boeheim also joined Westwood One and is reportedly set to work on The CW coverage of ACC basketball, debuting this Saturday with pre-taped segments during halftime of two conference games. News of Boeheim working with The CW was first reported by Mike Waters of Syracuse.com.
Boeheim departed Syracuse University after 47 seasons as a coach and holding an overall win-loss record of 1,015-441. He has the second-most wins at the Division I level in the history of college basketball, only being surpassed by former Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Dan Le Batard: I Thought Pat McAfee Would Grow College GameDay, But That Hasn’t Happened
Le Batard said McAfee is playing under a different set of rules than others at ESPN.
Pat McAfee has checked all the boxes Disney and ESPN leadership had when the former NFL punter brought his daily sports talk show into the fray, but one area where it seems like the waters aren’t so smooth for McAfee is in his reception as an analyst on College GameDay.
GameDay viewers have not shied away from making their feelings known that they don’t like seeing McAfee on the show, and Dan Le Batard has found the criticism quite interesting.
On The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz on Thursday, Le Batard said he thought having Pat McAfee on GameDay would continue taking the show to the next level, but it turns out he was wrong in some respects.
“And so they get McAfee and they give him a new set of rules,” Le Batard said. “But I thought that would result in College GameDay getting bigger and better. More popular. I underestimated the allegiance that the viewer has to David Pollack.”
“I’m reading him and everyone around him saying he’s a good teammate, they all love him, they’re all getting along with him,” Le Batard added. “He is effusive, he is such a positive person. He is effusive in his praise for the people on that sat. But now the numbers are coming back, and this is something that McAfee couldn’t have expected.”
Executive producer Mike Ruiz chimed in saying that a contributing factor in the changing conditions at GameDay is due to the mass layoffs and non-renewals of more expensive talent over the last couple years. He said there was going to be a natural need to switch things up after cutting ties with the likes of Pollack, Tom Rinaldi, and Chris “The Bear” Fallica.
“The format of the show when you take someone like that, you’re changing it,” Ruiz said. “You’re changing the emotional stories that made you cry in advance of a Purdue/Ohio State game. All that stuff starts going away. And now it’s not just going away, some of that stuff is going to FOX.”
Dan Le Batard responded saying he wasn’t trying to blame Pat McAfee for Big Noon Kickoff closing the gap on GameDay and negative fan feedback. But all of a sudden now that FOX can tout its pregame show continuing to grow and be a successful alternative to ESPN’s product, the narrative shifts.
“I always say perception is not reality, but when all you have is perception and fudged numbers, FOX is saying, ‘We’ve caught College GameDay. We’ve caught one of the most popular shows in the history of sports television,'” Le Batard said.
Jordan Bondurant is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. He’s a multimedia journalist and communicator who works at the Virginia State Corporation Commission in Richmond. Jordan also contributes occasional coverage of the Washington Capitals for the blog NoVa Caps. His prior media experiences include working for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Danville Register & Bee, Virginia Lawyers Weekly, WRIC-TV 8News and Audacy Richmond. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @J__Bondurant.