‘Our brand is not about shouting louder than rivals’ says ESPN as it talks up BT ownership

Having sold its channels in the UK and Ireland to BT in August 2013, EPSN says that its subsequent focus on content and creative marketing has enabled it to grow awareness among British sports fans.

The acquisition by BT of the ESPN and ESPN America channels has translated into the ‘BT Sport/ESPN’ branded channel, with its programming primarily focused on US sports such as Major League Baseball and the NBA.

With BT currently holding the rights to all of the Uefa Champions League matches and Sky still the majority holder of Barclays Premier League matches, the two rivals are engaged in an on-going war of words through their respective marketing campaigns.

However, Charly Classen, ESPN’s general manager for the EMEA regions, says ESPN is proud to be offering sports fans “something different” and has “no regrets” having lost the rights to host Premier League matches itself when the 2012-13 season ended.

“It isn’t about shouting that we are better than so and so, we just have faith in our identity,” he told Marketing Week.

“Over recent years, it has been a really good journey and the ESPN brand fits with BT Sport perfectly. I don’t think there is any confusion as the channel has a unique feel.”

Creating conversation

Classen claims that brand awareness among UK sports fans is “ well over 80%” and that two thirds of fans believe ESPN “is on the way up”. He said the brand has also benefitted from a unique approach to generating conversation through its marketing.

In August, ESPN teamed up with the Universities of Gloucestershire and Bath to launch a study to find the UK’s Greatest Sporting City 2015 (which Manchester won) after polling over 5,000 fans.

ESPN Greatest Sporting Cities OOH
Manchester was crowned ESPN’s Greatest Sporting City for a new marketing campaign

“It wasn’t just some campaign we dreamt up to be different, well it was that partially, but what the campaign created was real value and talking points. We want to be a brand that can create important conversations and debate among sports fans,” he adds.

Unique content

The ESPN brand is also driven by the editorial content it produces online. In September it achieved a record month for total minutes spent on the UK site, up +110% versus the previous 12 month average.

This is something Classen credits to ESPN’s “original behind the scenes” interviews and fantasy game that were associated with the Rugby World Cup.

And with England crashing out of the Rugby World Cup at the group stages, Classen said there are marketing lessons to be taken from the team’s exit.

“The sports brands most committed to the long term will get the most value, and will be able to ride out the good and the bad,” he explains.

“It is much harder if you dip in and out and be an opportunist, as you’ll either get lucky with a sponsorship or fall flat on your face.

“We’ve enjoyed a 10-year plus partnership with someone like Bet365 and we’ve just signed a seven year renewal deal with BT Sport. These long term partnerships create deeper conversations and more alignment creates better marketing.”

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