ESPN uses graffiti artist in new campaign as sports rights battle shows no sign of slowing

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 3.24.53 PMESPN is preparing to launch it first locally-produced campaign for four years as it aims to cement growing interest in American sport among its core young male demographic.

The sports network is working with content agency Now We Collide to create a 90-second video which merges pivotal sporting moments from the world of basketball and American Football with murals drawn by graffiti artist Russell Fenn, better know as Sofles.

The network hopes the time-lapsed amalgamation of sports and street art will create a social buzz among the 18 to 34-year-old demographic and prompt them to share the content across their networks.

ESPN’s reliance on American sports for pulling audiences intensified last month after it lost the rights to broadcast the UEFA Champions League, the world’s premier club football tournament, to Al Jazeera-owned BeIN Sport.

Director of television and marketing Patrick Bour described the battle for sports rights as “extraordinarily competitive” and branded live sport as “one of the last remaining DVR-proof mass audience pieces of content”.

ESPN will roll out campaign material through its own TV, digital and social assets from September 1 with marketers hopeful it will also be pushed out by its affiliates Foxtel and Fetch TV.

The campaign comes on the back of a successful NBA basketball season for ESPN which reported its highest ever viewing figures outside of the Superbowl, with more than 90,000 tuning in for game two of the finals.

It scored particular success among men aged 18 to 34, where viewing figures soared 62 per cent.

Bour said the network wanted to create a campaign that “distinguishes ESPN and our product in the market and talks directly to our most loyal fan base which is young male sports fans”.

“Over the last couple of years, but particularly this year, we have seen significant growth in this demographic so it’s very clear to us who our biggest and most loyal fan base is so we thought it natural to target that audience,” he said.

Nielsen figures show the under 34 demographic represented 47 per cent of ESPN’s audience in 2014, far higher than Fox Sports’ 29 per cent. In addition, almost seven out 10 ESPN viewers were male against 69 per cent for Fox Sports.

Marketing manager John Webb told Mumbrella it wanted to create a campaign that was shareable in order to reach beyond its “hardcore base”.

“It’s one thing to make a great TV commercial that we can run on our own platforms but we wanted to build something that will become shareable that strikes gold and potentially goes viral,” he said.

“We wanted to design a campaign that goes beyond our hardcore fan based and hit those casual fans who are on the fringes who we want to bring more into the network.

“Using Now We Collide and Sofles was the perfect way to design something that we could use on Instagram and Facebook and would go out to twitter and hit the demographic that are congregating on those platforms.”

The generic 90-second film will feature three sports – basketball, American Football and ESPN-owned X Games – and split into three 30 second spots to run ahead of key dates in the sporting calendar.

John Webb

John Webb

Bour claimed all ESPN’s metrics were showing American sports becoming increasingly popular.

“There have been waves [of popularity for US sports] but the difference between this wave and others is that it’s now much easier to access the content. You can get it on the ESPN app,, our TV channels and social channels.

“I don’t think the new wave of sports fans necessarily sees international sports as being distinctly different from local sports because that access is much easier. Our feeling and our hope is that this is a more sustainable growth period for these sports.”

Webb added: “I don’t think that audience sees them as American sports. They don’t think like that anymore. It’s globalised. They just think this is their sport.”

Asked about the loss of the UEFA Champions League, Bour conceded ESPN would “love to have retained it” but added the caveat that viewing figures for live matches “were not a great as you might think”.

“They were solid but not exceptional,” he said. “The timing of the Champions League [early morning] makes it a challenge. Yes, you can replay the matches but everyone knows the value of sports rights is in the live coverage. Once the game is over the value diminishes greatly so timing is a challenge.”

He added: “It’s disappointing and we would love to have it but we have a great suite of other sports rights that are compelling.

“Sports rights move around between broadcasters, they go in three years cycles, and it’s just of those things in this business.”

Bour described the battle for rights as “extraordinarily competitive worldwide and Australia is no different”, suggesting live sport is “one of the last remaining DVR-proof mass audience pieces of content”.

“And that is valuable,” he said. “You have seen that in the astronomical rise in sports rights in the last decade and we are not seeing any slowdown. Year after year there are significant increases. It’s a competitive environment. People want great content, and live sport is about as good a piece of content as you can get.”

Bour’s comments follow reports that NRL rights could go for $1.7bn with Nine tipped to retain the free-to-air rights for the code.

He added that ESPN would continue to explore other opportunities to build audiences.

“In our business you become more valuable to your affiliate partners the bigger audience you attract,” he said. “If we can continue to acquire sports and improve the depth of our coverage of our existing sports, which is what we are doing, and bring in bigger audiences, that’s a path for growth.

“If you deliver what the fans want, the fans come and the advertising follows after that.”

Steve Jones


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