How ESPN is marketing ESPN+

ESPN has pulled out all the stops to market ESPN+, its $4.99 per month streaming service, with promo ads, dedicated real estate on its digital properties and pushes on other Disney properties.

ESPN+ is five months old, and the company wouldn’t share subscriber numbers, or how many it hopes to acquire. Having lost nearly 13 million cable TV subscribers since its 2011 peak, ESPN is under intense pressure to prepare for a future where cord-cutting continues to accelerate, and it has to compete with tech giants for sports rights and seek direct consumer revenue. Hence the aggressive push for ESPN+.

“Digital sports content is a land grab today,” said David Meltzer, the CEO of Sports 1 Marketing. “With the growth of OTT streaming, ESPN needs to keep up, and their marketing spend is an essential part of ESPN+’s direct path to revenue.”

To promote ESPN+, ESPN is tapping its sprawling media network that includes cable TV channels, a massive social footprint, the largest digital audience of any sports publisher (67 million unique visitors in July, per comScore) and 2.1 million-circulation magazine, per the Alliance for Audited Media.

The news ticker that crawls along the bottom of its linear TV broadcasts displays the ESPN+ logo and its website and mobile apps have modules promoting the product and its content.

ESPN executives have also tried to make it as easy as possible to integrate ESPN+ into content. Wanda Young, svp of marketing and consumer engagement at ESPN, said her team wrote up guides that explain how to talk about ESPN+ and distributed them to every producer at ESPN and Disney itself. That got ESPN+ mentioned in an April episode of the ABC sitcom “Blackish.”

ESPN also is putting what Young called “significant” spending into house ads and other inventory, with 14 different TV ads including 30-second spots starring Keegan-Michael Key and Kobe Bryant, which have aired over 2,200 times since April, according to data. That’s still a small slice of the promotions ESPN runs on TV for its various products: It aired spots for ESPN Fantasy Games over 4,400 times over that same stretch, per iSpot.

Subscription offers are being sent to the most engaged site visitors and app users.

Personalization is a big part of the promotion strategy, because ESPN+ is designed to appeal to niche audiences, such as its coverage of the Italian soccer league Serie A or “I’ll Take That Bet,” its weekly show about sports gambling. Logged-in site visitors, which ESPN has been accumulating for years thanks to its fantasy sports and streaming video products, will get offers that are different from the ones that anonymous users receive.

Outside its owned properties, ESPN has been marketing ESPN+ using search, social and display advertising. Marketing originally focused on awareness but ESPN has also started targeting offers to audiences focused on a specific sport.

“It’s just part of the way we run our business now,” Young said. “It’s going to become very difficult to even inventory out the way [it’s promoted].”

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