When it comes to the explosion of mobile apps in the sports arena, ESPN has a message for the ad market: people actually use our apps, and so much we intend to charge a premium for them.
During an upfront presentation in New York on Tuesday, ESPN’s evp of sales and marketing Sean Bratches said that based on the company’s research, the average smartphone user potentially can chose among 14,000 sports apps. Yet most use only one or two apps — usually an ESPN app. In fact, Bratches claimed that ESPN commands a mobile app audience of 2.2 million daily users.
“There is a lot of noise in the world of apps,” said Bratches. “At ESPN, it’s all about usage. 2.2 million users. That’s scale, that’s engagement.”
That consistent mobile audience is in part why ESPN feels it can begin charging brands a premium, particularly for video streamed on mobile phones, tablets and PCs. Starting this fall ESPN will begin testing its first ads on the Watch ESPN app, which provides cable subscribers in select markets with the ability to stream ESPN’s live networks on their phones, iPads, laptops and the like.
Since launching last October, ESPN has stripped out all TV spots from its linear network for those who stream via Watch ESPN (which is available in close to 20 million homes, including to all Time Warner subscribers). Now ESPN wants to start experimenting with ads on these non-TV platforms.
“We think it’s worth more,” Eric Johnson, ESPN’s evp of multimedia sales told DIGIDAY. “There’s no scale there yet, so we think, ‘why not test and learn a little bit?’ So we’re trying some rich media, some longer branded entertainment spots. We and our launch partners can learn together.”
Besides Watch ESPN ads, ESPN also unveiled several other digital projects at its upfront, including an upcoming Web original dubbed Kenny Mayne’s Wider World of Sports. During a promotional clip, Mayne was seen road bowling with a group of Brits. JC Penny has signed on as the show’s first sponsor
ESPN also revealed more details on Grantland, the new digital sports magazine created by Bill Simmons, i.e., The Sports Guy, whom John Skipper, ESPN’s evp of content, called the most widely read sports columnist in the country.
While Simmons has already posted several preview stories on Grantland, the site, which will feature contributions from the likes of Malcolm Gladwell and Dave Eggers, officially goes live on June 6.
Johnson also plans on treating Grantland as a premium ad environment. The hope is to use Simmons’ personality and creativity to produce unique sponsorships; Johnson theorized that Simmons might conduct an interview with a prominent athlete while driving a particular auto brand’s car.
“It’s going to be a lot more than just traditional display ads,” said Johnson, who added that ESPN is already talking to two potential sponsors.