ESPN: The Evolution of an Entertainment Brand
In the 2004 movie Anchorman character Ron Burgundy ( Will Ferrell) auditions for a position on SportsCenter with the very new and lit-tle known network, ESPN ( Entertainment and Sports Programming Network). The year was 1979. After pronouncing the name of the network “ Espen,” he then is shocked to find out that ESPN is a round- the- clock sports network. Through his laughter, he asserts that the concept is as ridiculous as a 24- hour cooking network or an all- music channel. “ Seriously,” he shouts. “ This thing is going to be a financial and cultural disaster. SportsCenter . . . that’s just dumb!” While this comical sketch is fictitious, when a young college graduate named George Bodenheimer took a job in the mailroom at ESPN it 1981, it was for real. Today, Mr. Bodenheimer is president of the network that has become one of the biggest franchises in sports, not to mention one of the most successful and envied brands in the entertainment world. As a cable network, ESPN commands $ 2.91 from cable operators for each subscriber every month. Compare that to $ 1.67 for Fox Sports, 89 cents for TNT, and only 40 cents for CNN. The core ESPN channel alone is currently in more than 96 million homes. With that kind of premium power, it’s no wonder that ESPN shocked the world in 2006 by becoming the first cable network to land the coveted TV contract for Monday Night Football, which went on to become the highest rated cable series ever. But even with its three sibling channels ( ESPN2, ESPNEWS, and ESPN Classic), the ESPN cable network is only one piece of a bigger brand puzzle that has become Bodenheimer’s $ 6 billion sports empire. Through very savvy strategic planning, Bodenheimer is realizing his vision of taking quality sports content across the widest possible collection of media assets to reach sports fans wherever they may be. Employing a hands- off management style, Bodenheimer has cultivated a brand that is brash, tech savvy, cre-ative, and innovative. He tells employees that ESPN belongs to all of them. He gives them the freedom to come up with their own ideas and push them forward. His only rule is that every new ideaand push them forward. His only rule is that every new idea must focus on fulfilling ESPN’s mission of reaching sports fans and making them happy. In the process, ESPN has become as recog-nized and revered by its customers as other megabrands such as Tide, Nike, and Coca- Cola are to theirs. Bodenheimer’s career- spanning dedication has grown ESPN to well over 50 businesses. The all- sports network has become a truly multiplatform brand, a rarity for any TV network. This growth has given ESPN tremendous reach. ESPN. com alone reaches 22.4 million viewers a week. But even more stunning is the fact that during any seven- day period, 120 million people ages 12 to 64 interact with some ESPN medium. Here’s a rundown of ESPN’s portfolio of brands: Television: ESPN has sprawled into six cable channels and other TV divisions that give it both a local ( ESPN Regional Television) and global ( ESPN International and ESPN Deportes) presence. It was one of the first networks to break new ground in HDTV with simulcast service for ESPN and ESPN2 and it still maintains the most HD programming content and highest level of HD viewership in sports. Cable operators and viewers alike consistently rank ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Classic above all other channels with respect to perceived value and programming quality. But perhaps one of the most innovative moves in all of tel-evision sports occurred in 2003, when ESPN content was inte-grated into its sibling network ABC. ESPN on ABC is now the home for the NBA Finals, NASCAR, NCAA football, NCAA bas-ketball, World Cup Soccer, British Open, and the IndyCar Series. Although ESPN has numerous cable channel brands, one program stands out as a brand in its own right. SportsCenter was ESPN’s first program. And with as many as...
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