ESPN, which now comprises dozens of entities in TV, radio, print, TV, restaurants, and consumer products, has become a major force since it launched in 1979. The brand increased $1 billion in value just since 2010 to $11.5 billion, according to Forbes. In February 2011, its media properties surpassed the mark of reaching 100 million homes.
Contributing to that success is the brand’s dedication to marquee events. Lynn Kadri leads the New York-based ESPN event marketing team, which has a staff of 14 full-time employees. She says that what sets ESPN’s event marketing efforts apart from other brands is the company’s commitment across so many departments. There are dedicated internal teams for the likes of security, travel, and safety, with the I.T. group even traveling with event personnel to work on setting up tech infrastructure at out-of-town projects.
“We’re in lockstep with all these departments from one event to another,” Kadri says. “We’re able to draw upon our colleagues as our experts. There’s an ease of working together; there’s enormous trust.”
Some of ESPN’s most unusual programs are at its signature events, such as the summer and winter X Games and the ESPY awards. For the ESPYs, the brand buys out a Hollywood hotel and transforms it for three days. The hotel houses athletes, sponsors, and V.I.P. guests. Throughout the property, the team weaves branding, activities, parties, spa treatments, a gifting suite, and entertainment. “It creates a terrific buzz throughout town for the days around the ESPYs,” Kadri says. In 2011, the award show itself took to downtown’s Nokia Theatre L.A. Live and drew a crowd of 3,000 guests to the belly of Hollywood for an after-party at the Hollywood Palladium. The venue’s parking lot was fully covered in black turf, complete with details like a reflecting pool, cabanas, furnishings, and greenery that created the feel of an outdoor living room in front of the venue. Cee Lo Green and Lupe Fiasco headlined.
For the X Games program, the event team embeds both the sponsor and hospitality programs into the entire event production. An interactive sponsor village and behind-the-scenes hospitality areas are part of the course and built into the production infrastructure. Each year, there is a unique marketing theme to the X Games, which is carried through in all aspects of the event program.
ESPN’s presence at the Super Bowl is a multiday program that gives guests experiential opportunities, like mingling with on-air talent and athletes. For example, fans could catch passes from Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow at a pre-game tailgate event. Also included in the weekend is the brand’s signature Next party, which has owned the Friday-night spot on that weekend since 2005. About 2,500 guests show up for a major music headliner and integrated sponsor activations.
Kadri says of the overall event strategy and its success, “Philosophically, we’re authentic in our events. We’re authentic to the fans. We understand the importance and what it is to be a sports fan, so our experiences at our events represent that.”