SBJ/October 2 - 8, 2006/This Weeks News

ESPN to circle wagons in NASCAR ad pitch

ESPN hopes that coverage across
its many media platforms will
win over advertisers.
ESPN will use the same “surround strategy” with advertising for its NASCAR programming next year that it has employed with “Monday Night Football” this year.

ABC/ESPN signed an eight-year deal with NASCAR worth roughly $270 million a year that gave the networks the rights to 17 Nextel Cup races and the full Busch Series schedule beginning next season. The company’s sales department hit the streets in mid-September offering a multiplatform approach to its package of Cup races, the first seven of which are scheduled to air on ESPN, with the final 10 races of the Chase for the Nextel Cup on ABC.

The idea with “surround strategy” is to turn a three-hour race into a 24-hour event with blanket coverage on all of the network’s platforms, from “SportsCenter” to, ESPN Radio, ESPN Deportes, studio shows and pre- and postrace coverage.

“We’ve got a wonderful platform to work with and we don’t assume that everybody wants everything,” said Ed Erhardt, ESPN’s president of customer marketing and sales. “But we make sure they understand that collectively we can bring great value that will travel across all of those mediums. That’s very important for differential.

“The ‘Monday Night Football’ model is a great one to follow. That will be a good measuring stick. The audience has really connected with ‘Monday Night Football,’ and we’re going to do the same for NASCAR.”

In addition to offering spots on the Nextel Cup and Busch Series telecasts, ESPN is selling inventory for new NASCAR-related shows such as “NASCAR Countdown,” “NASCAR Now” and a behind-the-scenes reality show not yet named.

“NASCAR Countdown” will be fashioned after ESPN’s “College GameDay” show, which originates from the site of a college football game each Saturday. “NASCAR Now” will be the network’s signature 30-minute show that will run in the early evening Monday through Friday.

Erhardt’s group also is selling a new concept he calls the “icon strategy.” ESPN is in the process of identifying between eight and 10 icons, such as safety, the pits, behind the scenes, speed and others that are synonymous with the sport. An insurance company, for example, might align itself with the safety icon for short play-of-the-day-type segments on many of the multimedia platforms, which enable a sponsor to integrate itself into an aspect of the race.

“It allows a company to create a mark and potentially a brand connection,” Erhardt said. “So that when you see safety, you think of company X. This is new and fresh for us, and it’s an asset for an advertiser to own.”

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