SBJ/May 28 - June 3, 2007/Media

Marines step up for MLL on ESPN

Just days before its first broadcast of the Major League Lacrosse season, ESPN sold a presenting sponsorship to the U.S. Marine Corps, a package that will include several units during games and mentions during the openings and closings of each telecast.

Through a separate deal with the league, the Marines also will have signs on field boards, sponsor in-game features and have their logo on each of the goals.

ESPN officials refused to offer a specific value for the sponsorship package.

ESPN executives say the bulk of the inventory is sold, thanks largely to sponsors already associated with the league, such as New Balance/Warrior, Budweiser, Cascade and Gatorade. The first three telecasts are sold out, ESPN executives said.

The network's sales pitch centers on the fact that lacrosse is a growing sport that will have a spot on ESPN's prime-time schedule, said Andy Sippel, ESPN's senior vice president of sports and product management.

Both ESPN and the MLL hope all that means higher ratings. Last year, ESPN2's 12 Tuesday afternoon games from May to August earned an overall 0.1 cable rating, representing 94,000 households.

“We're not focused on a number,” said MLL Commissioner David Gross. “But we want to improve on that rating.”

ESPN is preparing to be especially innovative with its production, placing helmet cameras on the two goalies and putting microphones on four players.

Both the league and network are particularly excited about the helmet cams, which will be placed between the padding and the shell of the goalies' helmets. They hope to put cameras on offensive players later in the season. Right now, the technology works best on goalies, who are relatively stationary.

ESPN is trying to sell a sponsorship to the helmet cam.

“It really brings out the speed of the game,” said Tim Corrigan, ESPN's senior coordinating producer for the MLL. “We're trying to move this sport forward a little bit and get people excited about the game.”

ESPN also will have full sideline access during games, which will allow the network to interview players and take cameras into huddles. Banter from the miked-up players will become part of the telecast after delay of only a few seconds.

Other production features include a shot-speed graphic and a telestrator, which will be sponsored by Warrior.

Gross also is pitching the fact that all the games will be shot in high-definition, allowing viewers to more easily follow the ball.

“We never test anything that we don't really believe is an enhancement of what we do,” Corrigan said.

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