SBJ/August 14 - 20, 2006/This Weeks News

ESPN lands rights to reality event

ESPN Original Entertainment is trying its hand at an Eco-Challenge-style reality competition by picking up the rights to an event called “Primal Quest.” The series, available in high-definition, will be seen on ESPN2 from Oct. 9-12, with the finals broadcast on ABC on Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. ET.

Competitors run, bike, kayak and climb their
way around the course.
OLN had held the rights to the event since 2002, but race organizers opted for ESPN’s bigger distribution and marketing might.

“This seems like a perfect fit for us,” said Joan Lynch, executive producer of ESPN Original Entertainment. “We’re so excited about the athleticism, the stories and the new characters that are a part of this race.”

The deal is part of a barter arrangement where “Primal Quest” will sell ads on most of the inventory for the original telecasts, and ESPN will handle the bulk of the ad inventory during the re-airings, a source said.

“Primal Quest” bought air time on CBS for the past two years. This year, the sponsorship packages included a broadcast network component, which is why the finals will be on ABC. “Primal Quest” CEO Rich Brazeau hopes ESPN will telecast the entire event next year.

ESPN is noncommittal about next year, opting to wait and see if its ratings are high enough. “We’re not thinking much past October,” Lynch said. “We have high hopes for it.”

ESPN and “Primal Quest” have signed Nissan as the main sponsor, with Gatorade and Merrell shoes also buying sponsorships. Many of these deals include product placement; for example, teams used Nissan trucks and drank Gatorade during the event.

Brazeau said sponsorships could be added during post-production, such as adding a sponsor to the leaderboard.

“You can’t put on these events on the cheap,” Brazeau said, adding that “Primal Quest” is paying $4 million to $5 million to produce this year’s event.

Event organizers based the move to ESPN on market research that showed 70 percent of respondents expected to see an event such as “Primal Quest” on ESPN. “OLN didn’t come up once,” Brazeau said. “That was disheartening for us because we had a pretty decent deal with OLN.”

The multiday race took place June 25-July 4 in Utah’s deserts and mountains and so was already filmed. Competitors from seasoned adventure racers to weekend warriors ran, biked, kayaked and climbed their way around the course.

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