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Volume 24 No. 179
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ESPN Bullish On NFL At Upfront, Which Includes Jerry Jones Cameo

ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro, overseeing his first Upfront this morning in N.Y. since taking the position in March, insisted the net’s relationship with the NFL is not strained and that he has spent significant time with league execs over the past two months. Pitaro praised ESPN’s upcoming “Monday Night Football” schedule, and was further supported by an unannounced appearance at the Upfront by Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones to tout “MNF” and the recent addition of Jason Witten to the booth. “The relationship is not strained. I’ve known the executive team, the leadership team at the league for many years. ... That relationship is a huge priority for ESPN,” said Pitaro, who met with the media for a half hour following the Upfront, far longer than similar sessions with former ESPN President John Skipper. Pitaro: “Together, we want and we need to grow the game of football, and that’s the priority. We’re very happy with our schedule, the support we’ve received from the NFL, our Wild Card game, and we’re incredibly excited about our new 'Monday Night Football' booth.”

ON THE PLUS SIDE OF THINGS: Pitaro said he was “very happy” with initial subscription conversions for the new ESPN+ OTT platform, but declined to specify any purchase numbers related to the product a month after its public debut. “We’re pleased with the number of users that are trying out the app and we’re also very pleased with the conversion rate,” Pitaro said. “People are converting from free to the paid experience, and the technology is incredibly strong. ... And it’s incredibly important to have that direct relationship with the sports fan.”

BALLS & STRIKES: ESPN Exec VP/Programming & Scheduling Burke Magnus sought to put a brave face on early-season “Sunday Night Baseball” viewership that has sunk 30% to date. “A weekly series, it’s so volatile until you get into the meat of the schedule,” Magnus said. “The comparable matchups we’ve had at the beginning are not what they were last year. We have strong matchups coming, and there’s absolutely no concern around ‘Sunday Night Baseball’ long term. We love the new booth. We love the production and innnovation. ... As soon we put a Yankees-Red Sox game on there, I think we’re going to get healthy.” Alex Rodriguez, now part of the “SNB” broadcast team, also was part of the Upfront, announcing a new four-episode, in-depth interview show dubbed “Pivot,” which will feature Rodriguez as executive producer and host. Rodriguez referenced his own prior issues around PEDs and subsequent industry re-emergence, saying, “You don’t have to be defined by your mistakes.”