Magazine article Marketing

Amanda Andrews on Media: ESPN Faces Tough Season

Magazine article Marketing

Amanda Andrews on Media: ESPN Faces Tough Season

Article excerpt

The sports broadcaster will need strong financial and strategic backing if its UK channel is to succeed.

It's all to play for at US sports broadcaster ESPN. The 'ESPN' channel launched in the UK on Monday after a fast-track process during which it has picked up a string of rights packages following the demise of Setanta.

Majority-owned by Disney, ESPN is strong on paper, with more secure financial backing than private equity-owned Setanta. However, it will face challenges and obstacles as it attempts to tackle the UK market There are, after all, no easy games in football.

While ESPN has got off to a positive start and is unlikely to find itself sick as a parrot anytime soon, the broadcaster and its backers will need to invest heavily in the product both strategically and financially or risk finding themselves at sixes and sevens.

ESPN has taken the right steps in recent weeks. Despite its short time frame, its plans for a UK channel have been long in the making. Lynne Frank, ESPN's managing director of EMEA, has been keen to launch here since she took up the role four years ago. I get the impression that the plan has been clear for a long time and the right opportunity just needed to come along.

Embracing Sky and Virgin Media at the onset was a wise first move, as it has given instant access to millions of high-end, subscription sports fans, as well as Sky's 1.3m HD customers. Sky is also set to launch a 3D channel next year, which will focus mainly on sports. Perhaps ESPN will work with Sky to create a 3D offering - a tie-up that would appeal to viewers and advertisers alike.

Furthermore, benefits of the Disney relationship are clear, with the ability to cross-promote the channel with other Disney assets. The Disney XD channel, aimed at boys, will launch in the UK shortly and feature original British programming. One possibility is a football series featuring ESPN branding.

The channel will also be able to cross-promote across other ESPN assets, such as the popular sports websites Scrum.com and Cricinfo.com. For advertisers, this could provide an opportunity for advertising across TV and the web, targeting that usually hard to reach young male demographic. An ESPN news and analysis site focused on UK sports will launch soon, and is expected to be marketed heavily.

However, ESPN has clear obstacles. It faces competition from Sky's sports channels, which is likely to continue as Ofcom's pay-TV review suggests that BSkyB should share its premium sports coverage with others such as BT Vision and Top Up TV. …

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