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Volume 21 No. 23
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ESPN’s Snapchat deal explodes in a good way

Some of the viewer numbers coming out of ESPN’s deal with Snapchat are eye-popping. While nobody from ESPN would comment on specific viewership figures, several sources who have seen the data say the numbers are bigger than they were expecting.

For example, a Winter X Games post on Snapchat Stories logged close to 30 million views for ESPN, sources said. While Snapchat posts delete shortly after they are seen, posts on Snapchat Stories stay on the platform for at least 24 hours.

ESPN’s posts on Snapchat’s Discover platform generally are seen about 1 million times a day, sources said. In January, ESPN signed on as the exclusive sports service on Snapchat’s Discover platform, which also includes content from companies like CNN, Comedy Central, Food Network and Vice.

Speaking on a panel at the SXSW event in Austin earlier this month, Marie Donoghue, ESPN’s executive vice president of global strategy and original content, addressed her company’s Snapchat deal in general terms. She said early viewer figures from the deal are good.

“Our business isn’t that complicated — we buy a lot of rights, then we try to monetize and use them on as many platforms as possible and try to stay relevant,” she said. “Snapchat is not a platform that I had used a lot. When we got the deal done, it became a bigger deal than I even realized. We used it over the time we negotiated the deal, and it has kind of exploded.”

These days, I seem to get asked about Snapchat as often as any other company in sports media. One broadcast network executive told me that his company considers Snapchat as important as Facebook and Twitter in terms of developing a social media strategy.

TV networks have spent decades looking for ways to attract young viewers. TV executives look at the age of the typical Snapchat user and believe that it could be a way to get in front of the younger demos. Not only are Snapchat’s numbers impressive, but the app seems to have street cred among younger viewers — at least in my house.

ESPN’s Snapchat video is a mix between game highlights and commentary. Last week, for example, ESPN video on its Discover platform ranged from a video showing “SportsCenter Top 10” plays to an article by on-air analyst Dick Vitale breaking down the Sweet 16 matchups in the NCAA tournament.

Snapchat is a small piece of ESPN’s overall business, of course. One source said that the relationship brings in “a couple of hundred thousands of dollars in ad revenue.”

Even though Snapchat’s audiences are big and young, some advertisers remain wary of investing too heavily in it right now. One ad buyer complained about the audience measurement — Snapchat provides a viewer number to ESPN, which, in turn, provides it to the advertiser. One ad buyer said he wants to see numbers from an independent third party, like Nielsen for television or comScore for websites.

Because Snapchat’s audience is dominated by millennials who are not old enough to drink, ESPN is not selling to beer or liquor advertisers around its Snapchat content, a source said. Those categories are among the most lucrative on sports TV.

Ad buying sources confirmed a Re/code report from earlier this month that ESPN charges 10 cents a view for its ads within the Discover platform. It’s not known how much ESPN charged around its Snapchat Stories.

Last Wednesday, none of ESPN’s Snapchat videos carried advertisements.

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.