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ESPN, Inc.: 2004 in Review

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When ESPN launched September 7, 1979, no one could have imagined what would follow, a multimedia global brand enmeshed in sports and culture that touches 94 million Americans each week.  In 2004, the company celebrated a quarter century of remarkable growth, and also continued to look forward, embracing new technology and new challenges, announcing a number of major initiatives while two others debuted.

 January marked the launch of ESPN Deportes, a Spanish-language U.S. network, and June saw the opening of the Digital Center, a production facility unmatched in the industry.  Three major offerings were announced for 2005 – ESPN2 HD; ESPNU, a multimedia college sports initiative; and ESPN Mobile, one of two wireless initiatives created with The Walt Disney Company.  ESPN Mobile will be the first nationalU.S.wireless phone service specifically targeted to sports fans.  The other, an X Games wireless initiative inJapan, premiered in December.  Other developments included a Chinese-language version of ESPN The Magazine, television expansion in Europe with ESPN Classic Sport inGermany, a locally produced SportsCenter inHong Kong, formation of ESPN Books, critical acclaim and record sales for ESPN Videogames and unveiling www.ESPNPlayYourWay.com, to encourage play among youth. 

 “The support ESPN has received from sports fans for the past quarter century has been very gratifying, and motivates us daily to serve fans better tomorrow than we do today,” said George Bodenheimer, President, ESPN, Inc. and ABC Sports and Co-Chairman, Disney Media Networks.  “In the next 25 years we will continue to grow our business by enhancing the sports experience for fans, wherever they are and however they consume sports.”

DOMESTIC MEDIA

Television

Surveys of cable operators and subscribers by Beta Research Corp. ranked ESPN and ESPN2 1 and 2, respectively, in perceived value of major ad-supported cable networks.  For the fourth consecutive year, operators ranked ESPN #1 in perceived value and in generating local ad sales revenue.  In the group’s survey of consumers, ESPN and ESPN2 topped all cable networks in perceived value to viewers for a fifth straight year.  ESPN ranked first in every question and category among men. 

In 2004, many additions and enhancements strengthened ESPN’s core television business and added value for affiliates and advertisers: 

  • Already home to all four major team sports, the best college programming and more, ESPN announced agreements with ABC Sports for ACC football, the Belmont and IndyCar.  ESPN also reached deals with the USGA, LPGA and International Skating Union. 
  • SportsCenter continued to evolve and grow in popularity, highlighted by SportsCenter: Salute the Troops, a week of telecasts live from aU.S.military base inKuwait. 
  • Under the ESPN Original Entertainment banner, Dream Job received tremendous publicity, Poker was the year’s ratings phenomenon, and two movies debuted – Hustle and the most successful yet,  3, the critically acclaimed biopic of racing legend Dale Earnhardt.
  • ESPN, in 89 million homes, enjoyed a streak of 10 straight quarters of ratings growth through June. 
  • ESPN2’s distribution is nearly equal with 88 million and both networks enjoyed increases in total day and prime time viewing of up to 6%. 
  • ESPN Classic now reaches 54.8 million homes and announced plans for a series of live “throwback” college basketball telecasts.
  • ESPNEWS is seen in 42.7 million homes (the network receives part-time carriage in 12.5 million homes) and has enjoyed increased viewership. 
  • ESPN HD celebrated its first anniversary in March having televised 185 HD events.  With nine of the top 10 distributors signed, ESPN HD is available to more than 65 million households. 
  • ESPN Deportes closes its first year having signed agreements with seven of the top 10 operators. 
  • ESPNU, coming in March, will include content online, in print, radio, and in new technologies, ESPN Mobile, ESPN Interactive and ESPN Broadband, as well as a stand-alone 24-hour TV network and merchandising opportunities. 
  • ESPN Regional Television (ERT), the nation’s largest syndicator of college sports programming, produces more than 740 events each year.  Among the events it oversees – including bowl games, the Skins Games and Jimmy V Classic tournaments – is now the MEAC/SWAC Challenge, a college football game featuring the historically Black College conferences with ancillary events, including a diversity job fair. 
  • ESPN PPV added premier boxing matches and an NFL fantasy football preseason special. 
  • ESPN On Demand now offers original EOE content; previously unseen SportsCentury and SportsCenter interviews; and instruction in golf, poker, fishing and racing.

BEYOND TV

  • ESPN Radio now is heard on 265 full-time affiliates covering 80% of the country; 750 stations carry some ESPN programming, including the top 50 markets and 99 of the top 100. 
  • ESPN.com — the leading sports web site is visited by as many as 18 million people per month.  In 2004, fantasy game and premium content offerings have seen double-digit growth; high-quality ESPN Motion video is viewed by more than two million people monthly.
  • ESPN The Magazine –with circulation now at 1.85 million – for the fourth straight year was named to the Adweek Top 10 Hot List.  A monthly version inChina was previewed in November.
  • ESPN Broadband, a high-speed content service, expanded its lineup to include exclusive live games, plus articles, news, photos, score stats and on-demand audio and video.
  • ESPN Mobile will offer an ESPN-branded and produced phone service using Sprint’s wireless network in 2005.  It will deliver phone service plus sports news, analysts, stats, ring tones, graphics, photos and even streaming audio and video.
  • SportsTicker renewed with the NFL and NHL and moved toBristol to be closer to ESPN’s              news-gathering operation. 
  • ESPN Zones attracted nearly five million people in 2004 for food, fun and to enjoy live TV and radio broadcasts.

OWNED EVENTS

  • Winter X Games Eight in Colorado was aired predominantly live for the first time and X Games 10 topped last year’s attendance inLos Angeles while both achieved record TV audiences.  
  • The 12th Annual ESPY Awards inL.A. topped its biggest TV audience, up 43% over last year, and attracted the biggestHollywood stars in its history.
  • The Great Outdoor Games drew record crowds and the TV audience set records; and the CITGO Bassmaster Classic, held inCharlotte, expanded to 11 hours of coverage and viewership rose 64%. 

INTERNATIONAL

  • ESPN International –30 networks in 12 languages in 192 countries and territories – continued to expand in Europe with ESPN Classic Sport in Germany and added three customized feeds in Asia.  Through the joint venture ESPN STAR Sports, in September the ninth locally produced international version of SportsCenter was launched inHong Kong.  ESPN International also includes ventures in other media — six international websites and local ESPN radio programming in 13 countries.    
  • ESPN Enterprises established a publishing imprint with ESPN Books, and ESPN GameStation – created with Fisher-Price – is one of the hottest-selling toys.  ESPN Videogames continued to earn positive reviews and record sales.  DVD releases included PLAYMAKERS, 3, 2003 World Series of Poker and The Complete Angler.  ESPN Russell Racing Schools debuted.

BRAND EXTENSIONS

  • ESPN Enterprises established a publishing imprint with ESPN Books, and ESPN GameStation – created with Fisher-Price – is one of the hottest-selling toys.  ESPN Videogames continued to earn positive reviews and record sales.  DVD releases included PLAYMAKERS, 3, 2003 World Series of Poker and The Complete Angler.  ESPN Russell Racing Schools debuted.

ADVERTISING SALES

  • ESPN Shorts debuted as an innovative, award-winning vehicle to provide sponsor exposure within a series of 90-second spots with sports-oriented storylines.  Ad execs again voted ESPN #1 for brand image among networks with the top demos on cable. 

TEAM ESPN

  • Team ESPN celebrated its first anniversary of community outreach and launched www.espnplayyourway.com to highlight the signature youth initiative, ESPN Play Your Way.