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ESPN Edge Conference Showcases Innovation in Sports Media

“We’re proud of what Edge and our partners have accomplished in the last couple of years.”

Derek Futterman

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ESPN Edge 2023

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.”

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Amazon Prime Video to Broadcast Weekly NHL Whiparound Show in Canada

“We are thrilled to work with NHL Productions on this new concept for hockey offering the ultimate destination for all the NHL action.”

Barrett Sports Media

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NHL on Prime Video
Courtesy: National Hockey League, Prime Video & Amazon MGM Studios

The National Hockey League and Amazon’s Prime Video have announced the creation of NHL Coast To Coast, a new weekly whiparound live look-in show airing on Thursday nights in Canada. This new program will feature live views, highlights and analysis of every NHL game on the schedule as Prime Video prepares to embark on a two-year sublicensing deal with the league and Rogers Communications to present live games on Monday nights. The series is produced by NHL Productions in collaboration with Prime Video, and more information, including details surrounding the talent and production for the show, will be revealed at a later date.

“We are thrilled to work with NHL Productions on this new concept for hockey offering the ultimate destination for all the NHL action,” Magda Grace, head of Prime Video, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, said in a statement. “NHL Coast To Coast will provide fans with a comprehensive look at the latest key moments in games, as-they-happen highlights, interviews and analysis from the world of hockey featuring top players, coaches and commentators. The show will bring innovation and offer more to fans of the game than ever before, all in one place with their Prime membership.”

Earlier in the month, Prime Video and NHL Productions unveiled an untitled docuseries with Box to Box Films that will provide consumers with access to compelling players from around the league at different stages of their careers all trying to win the Stanley Cup. The series will include interviews with players, their rivals and those in their inner circle, trying to accurately depict what life is like for these players on and off the ice.

Amazon and the NHL have worked together since 2021 on their cloud-based delivery system, which has facilitated the delivery of in-game analytics and video highlights to enhance the overall fan experience. Among these ventures is the NHL Edge IQ stats portfolio that implements advanced analytical outputs to engender a better understanding of the on-ice action.

NHL Coast To Coast is yet another example of Amazon’s extraordinary investment in hockey programming and commitment to delivering an enhanced viewing experience for hockey fans,” Steve Mayer, senior executive vice president and chief content officer of the National Hockey League, said in a statement. “We are impressed with Amazon’s all-in approach to hockey and the NHL. Together with our amazing team at NHL Productions, Amazon continues to build on its mission to serve hockey fans across Canada with whiparound coverage that will make Thursday nights appointment viewing.”

Over the last several years, Amazon has expanded its presence in sports media through the acquisition of broadcasting rights within the National Football League, NASCAR, National Women’s Soccer League and Overtime Elite. The company is reportedly set to acquire media rights within the National Basketball Association’s new broadcasting deal, which is also said to include The Walt Disney Company (ESPN/ABC) and NBCUniversal, although no deals have currently been announced.

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NBC Sports Announces Olympic Commentators for Swimming, Diving, Track and Gymnastics

In swimming, Dan Hicks, covering his 14th Olympics, will once again work with Rowdy Gaines.

Barrett Sports Media

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Logo for the 2024 Paris Olympics on NBC

U.S. Olympic Team Trials for swimming, diving, track & field and gymnastics will be taking place from June 15-June 30 for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Those trials will be presented across NBC, Peacock and USA Network. With that, NBC Sports also announced its roster of announcers who will call those sports during the Olympics.

In swimming, Dan Hicks, covering his 14th Olympics, will once again work with Rowdy Gaines. The pair will have Elizabeth Beisel, working her second Olympics and Melissa Stark who will be working her fourth Olympics.

Jason Knapp will also provide swimming play-by-play and he will do so with Amy Van Dyken and Heathe Olson as analysts.

In diving, Ted Robinson will call the play-by-play and work with analysts Cynthia Potter and Laura Wilkinson. Andrea Joyce will serve as a reporter. Robinson will be working his 14th overall Olympics and 13th with NBC.

Track & Field will have Leigh Diffey, Paul Swangard and Bill Spaulding calling the play-by-play. Analysts for track include Ato Boldon, Sanya Richards-Ross, Kara Goucher, Trey Hardee, Lewis Johnson, Dawn Harper-Nelson and Shannon Rowbury.

Terry Gannon and Rich Lerner will be on play-by-play for gymnastics. Gannon will work the primetime show with analysts Tim Daggett, Samantha Peszek, John Roethlisberger and Zora Stephenson. Lerner will be teamed with Laurie Hernandez and Justin Spring.

The Olympics will conclude on August 11.

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ESPN Platforms Set for Men’s College World Series Coverage; ABC to Air First Ever Game

ESPN Sunday Night Baseball voice Karl Ravech will rotate with Mike Monaco calling play-by-play duties with Ravech calling the Finals.

Barrett Sports Media

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Graphic for the 2024 Men's College World Series
Graphic Courtesy: ESPN

The 2024 Men’s College World Series is set to begin tomorrow, and ESPN Platforms will have exclusive coverage as they have throughout the NCAA Division I Men’s College Baseball Tournament. The dual double-elimination brackets will conclude on Thursday, June 20 before the best-of-three MCWS Finals begins on Saturday, June 22.

Game 2 of the MCWS on Sunday, June 23 is set to be aired by ABC which will mark the first ever CWS game on the network. ESPN will also use ESPN2 for a game and all games will stream on ESPN+.

ESPN Sunday Night Baseball voice Karl Ravech will rotate with Mike Monaco calling play-by-play duties with Ravech calling the Finals. Analysts include former LSU All-American Ben McDonald, 2001 SEC Player of the Year Chris Burke, former MLB player Eduardo Perez and Omaha native Kyle Peterson. Reporters Kris Budden and Dani Wexelman will also be part of the crew in Omaha. Ravech, Peterson, Burke and Budden will make up the primary team.

ESPN has presented the Men’s College World Series since 2003 and actually started televising the event in 1980.

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