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ESPN, Inc.: 2014 in Review

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In 2014, ESPN celebrated its 35th birthday, and the company relied on two hallmark points of emphasis that have fueled its amazing success from day one – creative use of technology and tapping into the deep passion of fans for the sports and teams they love – to move the company forward. Those were best exemplified by two debuts – the massive, state-of-the-art DC-2 (Digital Center 2) production center in May, home of the new SportsCenter and NFL studios, to enhance both television and digital offerings, and the August launch of the SEC Network. Seen in 70 million homes – thanks to agreements with nine of the top 10 distributors – Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger called it “the most successful launch in cable television history.”

Those two events led a list of major accomplishments during the year across the entire spectrum of ESPN’s growing sports media enterprise around the world, highlighted by:

  • Long-term, multimedia rights acquisitions, notably the nine-year agreement with the NBA that runs through 2025 and substantially increases ESPN’s television, digital, highlights, data, audio and International NBA rights;
  • Content distribution, where renewals with Dish, DirecTV, NCTC, NTTC, Mediacom and Suddenlink introduced new products and services to subscribers including the full slate of Watch offerings, SEC Network and Longhorn Network;
  • ESPN International, which enjoyed another very successful year with record audience and distribution in Latin America; multimedia efforts in Latin America, Canada, Australia/New Zealand; overall global digital focus in all markets; and its syndication businesses around the world;
  • Continued explosive, record-setting growth of ESPN Digital Media services in 2014, posting (through November) the sports category’s top six months ever for traffic and up 35 percent overall vs. 2013. Also, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight debuted with an acclaimed editorial team delivering compelling stories examining politics, culture, sports and more.
  • The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil provided the platform for a showcase of ESPN’s production capabilities and expertise in the region, as well as back in the U.S. With great coordination and teamwork, ESPN and ESPN International teamed to present more than 400 live hours of coverage in the U.S., and approaching 2,000 hours across three networks in Brazil.
  • and the enduring strength of the core television business, where ESPN was the most-watched cable network in prime time and the 24-hour audience for the four measured English-language U.S. networks topped 2013.

ESPN’s momentum will continue into 2015, which will kick off with the much-discussed inaugural College Football Playoffs – the New Year’s Day Rose and Sugar Bowls as semifinals with the Championship on January 12. Later in the year, highly anticipated developments include the launch of a yet-unnamed website of sports journalism aimed at an African-American audience with Jason Whitlock as editor, and first-ever exclusivity for tennis’ US Open from New York, giving ESPN a start-to-finish presentation for two of the sport’s four Majors, while serving as the primary network for a third.

“I am continually in awe in the never-ending energy, devotion and innovation throughout this company, clearly major reasons behind ESPN’s unprecedented position – as a daily, critical component in the lives of sports fans,” said John Skipper, ESPN president.  “For 35 years, ESPN has stood out from the field for a willingness to try new things.  As we evolve in an ever-changing technological, business, customer and sports landscape, we remain committed to serving fans like no one else can.”

CONTENT

  • The unrivaled allure of live marquee event television remained ESPN’s strength in the increasingly crowded sports television landscape.  Leading the way once again was Monday Night Football, cable’s most-viewed series for a ninth consecutive year with an average of 9,636,000 homes.  The final BCS Championship game – January’s exciting meeting of Florida State and Auburn – registered as the third biggest audience in cable history. The audience was even larger including the offerings of the “BCS Megacast” – an innovative menu of alternative viewing options across a different viewing option across six television platforms as well as audio and digital outlets.  The United States’ 2-2 tie against Portugal in the 2014 FIFA World Cup was the most-viewed soccer match in the United States ever, averaging 18,220,000 viewers (surpassing the 17,975,000 viewers for the memorable 1999 Women’s World Cup final on ABC, USA vs. China.  ESPN’s Saturday night college football slate enjoyed a 24% increase in viewership, boosted by the “Iron Bowl” – Alabama vs. Auburn – which was the season’s most-viewed game on any network, and ESPN’s biggest audience for the sport ever. ESPN set a new high with its highest-rated men’s college basketball season on record (badk to 1991-92).  Also, the Little League World Series on ESPN/ESPN2 was the highest-rated in a decade, and the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest was ESPN’s highest-rated ever.
  • Between MNF and college football, ESPN or ABC “won the night” among all networks 21 times this fall.
  • ESPN2 set new marks for its highest-rated bowl game (Gator, 2.6), soccer match (Germany vs. France in the World Cup, 2.5), NBA playoff game (Portland-San Antonio, 2.2), and men’s college basketball (Kentucky-Louisville, 2.1).
  • 228 million Americans watched ESPN TV content (based on “reach data” for ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS & ESPN Deportes plus ESPN on ABC) in the fourth quarter (89% of U.S. TV homes).
  • The company produced a record 46,631 hours of live/original programming (29,732 hours – events, 16,889 – studio programming, equivalent to more than five years of content!
  • ESPN Deportes celebrated its 10th anniversary with record-breaking viewership, multimedia growth and a record number of live events.  The network is the second highest-rated and most-watched Spanish-language sports network among Hispanic Households, but the most-watched network since the World Cup ended. Growth has notably been among younger demos – up 33% in Hispanic P18-34 impressions.
  • SEC Network launched on August 14 and in less than five months aired more than 500 live events across its linear and digital platforms. Flagship studio programming – SEC Now, SEC Nation and a simulcast of ESPN Radio’s The Paul Finebaum Show – surround live events from men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball and soccer, in addition to 45 exclusive football games.
  • Longhorn Network celebrated its third anniversary in August and aired more than 175 original events and 500 hours of original studio content this year. LHN received two Lone Star Emmys and won the Best Feature Award at the College Sports Media Awards.  In addition, the network more than doubled its reach with national distribution on DISH, in addition to agreements with Suddenlink and NCTC. 
  • ESPN Digital Media remained no. 1 among all sports properties in average minute audience, total minutes of usage and total visits in 2014, accounting for 31% of all sports category usage across digital platforms, and more than the Nos. 2 and 3 sports properties.  ESPN digital properties averaged 75.7 million unique visitors (up 34%) and 815.6 visits (up 23%), logging 6.8 billion minutes of usage (up 21%) per month. (source: comScore Multi-Platform Report, Jan-Nov).
    • ESPN.com averaged 16.6 million daily unique visitors perideo starts averaged nearly 295 million per month, up 16% from last year.
    • WatchESPN and ESPN3 averaged 1.1 billion minutes per month with live and replay events across all platforms in 2014, up 132%. (source: Omniture, Jan-Nov)
    • Driven by the 2014 FIFA World Cup, WatchESPN logged its best month ever in June with 14.7 million unique users (up 169% vs. Jun. 2013) and 2.8 billion minutes (up 254%), according to Adobe Analytics.  ESPN linear networks on WatchESPN across all platforms also logged a new high in June with 1.0 billion minutes, up 603%.
    • ESPN On Demand generated more than 272.3 million downloads (Jan-Nov) up 38% over last year.
    • Grantland.com logged more than 69 million downloads to its podcasts and over 32 million for The BS Report with Bill Simmons alone.
    • The Men’s Tournament Challenge
    • ESPN has 16 Facebook pages with more than one13.5 million), SportsCenter (11.3 million), X Games (5.2 million), NBA on ESPN (4.6 million) and ESPNcricinfo (3.9)
  • ESPN Audio comprised of the country’s largest sports radio network, ESPN Radio, providing more than 8,500 hours of talk and event content annually, reaching more than 23 million listeners a week on nearly 500 affiliates – over 350 of which are full-time including owned and/or operated stations in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago; ESPN Deportes Radio, ESPNRadio.com, ESPN Podcasts and ESPN’s five local .com sites (ESPNBoston.com, ESPNChicago.com, ESPNDallas.com, ESPNLA.com, ESPNNewYork.com), enjoyed a strong 2014. Highlights:
    • Reached an agreement with YES Network to Simulcast ESPN New York 98.7 FM’s The Michael Kay Show.
    • President Barack Obama made two appearances on The Herd with Colin Cowherd – March 20 and December 12.
    • A new podcast series ESPN Perspectives debuted, with three new podcasts – Capital Games, Inside Out and Sports Biz – exclusive and thought-provoking shows that incorporate sports and topical psychological, business and social stories of consequence.
    • The 2014 FIFA World Cup was a big success for ESPN Audio’s Digital Coverage — all 64 matches presented live, averaging 23,500 listeners every quarter hour – with the USA vs. Germany game on June 26 setting an ESPN Audio record of 147,880 listeners on average, according to Ando Media.
    • ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith hosts new national radio show exclusively on SiriusXM, produced by ESPN Radio
    • With a new ESPN-wide NBA agreement, ESPN Radio – which tipped off its 20th season in the fall – will remain the exclusive national radio home of the league through the 2024-25 campaign.
    • Mike & Mike hosts Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic set social media ablaze with Golic’s “butt photo,” with the hashtag #GolicButtPhoto trending worldwide on November 21.  The original tweet from @MikeandMike garnered 20,369 retweets and 14,824 favorites on Twitter.
  • ESPN The Magazine, read by 15 million people per issue, is the No. 1 publication among men 18-34 with 5.9 million readers.  With distinctive photography and design to go with compelling features, theMag was honored by American Illustration and Photography for photography and infographics and for writing by the annual The Best American Sports Writing.
  • espnW celebrated its fifth anniversary with a landmark year of growth and increased presence across television, films, events, digital and social platforms.  Highlights:
    • Usage of espnW.com more than doubled, peaking in September with 7.6 million users.
    • espnW and ESPN Films announce Nine for IX Shorts, a series of short films on espnW.com focused on capturing fascinating stories of women in sports told through the lens of female filmmakers including a feature on basketball star Brittney Griner, Ronda Rousey’s rise to become the #1 female MMA fighter, and a look at the driving force behind autistic basketball player Jason McElwain, now known for scoring 20 points in four minutes in his high school basketball debut: his mother, Debbie.
    • espnW launched the Nine for IX Knowledge Center, a resource for college administrators, professors and student-athletes that examines the powerful lessons in each of the Nine for IX series films released in the summer of 2013.
    • In April, espnW columnist Kate Fagan had an exclusive, sit-down interview with UMass basketball player Derrick Gordo, who comes out as the first openly gay athlete in Div. I men’s basketball.
    • In September, in the wake of a series of troubling news stories out of the NFL, espnW and ESPN Radio collaborate to produce espnW Presents: The State of the NFL on ESPN Radio, a special hosted by Jemele Hill and co-hosted by Cari Champion and featuring espnW voices Jane McManus, Kate Fagan and Sarah Spain.
    • At year’s end, the inaugural Impact 25 was announced, including Becky Hammon – the WNBA veteran hired as the first female NBA assistant coach – as The espnW Woman of the Year.

INTERNATIONAL
In Spanish-speaking Latin America, ESPN experienced record-breaking growth of digital platforms. ESPN Play was tops in major markets including Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico with 10 consecutive months of year-over-year growth. Also, it added affiliates including DirecTV in Mexico. ESPN.com averaged more monthly  users than any competitor in the region.  ESPN online video ranked first in the sports category in Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina for video starts and minutes.

ESPN was the official broadcaster of the Sochi Olympics Games for the first time in Northern South America, and for the second time in the Southern Cone, with10 or more live hours daily as well as original ancillary programming.  In ongoing efforts toward strategic localization, the all-Colombian anchored Balon Divididoexpanded from three to six shows per week; the social media inspired #Redes launched on the ESPN+ network in the Southern Cone and on ESPN3 in Mexico, Central America and the Dominican Republic; and the third version of the all-digital ESPN Magazine launched in Colombia. Major rights acquisitions in Mexico included Leones Negros of the First Division Liga MX and French Ligue 1.

ESPN’s efforts were recognized in Argentina with three Martín Fierro statuettes from APTRA (the Argentine TV and Radio Journalists Association), including SportsCenter as best sports news show, Pura Química as best sports variety program and Simplemente Fútbol as best sports commentary program.

ESPN’s business in Brazil also continued to thrive, as the ESPN Brasil network held steady for the majority of 2014 as the second most-watched network among men 18-49, representing a 100% growth from 2013 (source: Ibope) and ESPN.com.br grew 51% in unique visitors this Fall over 2013 (comScore).  Major rights acquisitions included highlight rights to the Brazilian Championship, the top national sporting event and an extension to the existing NFL agreement that makes ESPN the exclusive home to the league on Brazilian pay TV through 2016.  The deal includes the Super Bowl, which nearly doubled its viewership to a new record for Brazil.  In digital news, ESPN signed a wide-reaching agreement with top portal UOL. Unique visitors were up by 98% over between January and October of 2014 (comScore).

SALES & MARKETING

  • In addition to the distribution agreements mentioned above, ESPN continued to grow its groundbreaking WatchESPN product, now available to 75 million homes (access for DIRECTV customers coming in 2015).   New deals also make the service available to Amazon Fire TV, Fire TV Stick and Chromecast.  The service also expanded to include live access to Longhorn Network, SEC Network and SEC Network +.
  • Surveys of cable operators by Beta Research Corp. ranked ESPN and ESPN2 the top two major ad-supported cable nets in perceived value.  ESPN was no. 1 for the 14th consecutive year, and Disney and ESPN Media Networks was voted the no. 1 organization most helpful in selling high-speed Internet, HDTV and/or video on demand
  • ESPN’s Consumer Marketing group continued to develop new award-winning creative campaigns while building upon existing ones, such as the iconic “This is SportsCenter,” “Get Up. It’s GameDay,” and the“ESPN Fan Hall of Fame.” The team launched an integrated brand campaign for the inaugural College Football Playoff, titled “Who’s In?” that helped set the stage for the historic season2014 FIFA World Cup campaign, which featured ground-breaking executions like “Ian Darke Narrates a Date,” “True Beauty” and “Time Zones.”  Other new campaigns that debuted in 2014 include SEC Network’s “Take It All In,” featuring a series of school-specific spots; a revamped NBA and ESPN titled “This is Your Game;” a new NFL Countdown campaign called “Count on Countdown,” and a collaboration with NFL Films for Monday Night Football’s “No Other Night is Monday Night
  • The Customer Marketing and Sales (CMS) team sprinkled some  Disney Magic on the company’s Upfront presentation, moving to Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre, home of The Lion King. The show centered around the “Always On” relationship ESPN has with fans across screens, year round, and the power of sports to move and inspire.  Highlights from the year included the 2014 FIFA World Cup, where the ad sales group delivered record-setting, cross-media revenues. Innovative 15  blue chip partners across a broad array of categories , including six new bowl entitlements for the New Year’s Six Bowls and the National Championship Game. Throughout the year, the sales team continued to lead the marketplace in multi-platform advertising solutions, while also increasing the use of data to deliver effective and targeted advertising solutions unveiled plans for an innovative, programmatic ad unit
  • ESPN’s Research + Analytics group continued to lead the industry in cross platform measurement and innovative research solutions. In 2014 the ESPN-led Project Blueprint, launched in 2013 in collaboration with comScore, entered its second phase of development and an industry evaluation under the auspices of CIMM – the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement. The goal is to be adopted more broadly by the industry. To complement Blueprint, which measures usage of video, audio and display content across multiple platforms, ESPN Research + Analytics introduced the Convergence Effectiveness Model.  CEM continuously measures advertising exposure and impact of campaigns running across ESPN platforms.  CEM is an innovative ROI tool that helps advertisers optimize their ESPN media mix and ad effectiveness based on predictive benchmark data.

TECHNOLOGY

At 194,000 square feet and with five studios, the state-of-the-art Digital Center 2 provides more space, more options and many advancements for television and digital productions. To date, SportsCenter and the NFL studio programs have moved to the new facility, which is designed to be “future proof” in being adaptable for whatever technological developments are to come.

X GAMES / OWNED EVENTS

  • In its inaugural year as host city, X Games Austin 2014 delivered a strong four-day attendance of 160,000, pushing the all-time X Games attendance (41 events) beyond the five million mark (5,069,115).  The reach on ESPN/ABC was up 38 percent, to 32.3 million viewers.  X Games Aspen 2014 posted a four-day total of 108,700, including the single-day record for an X Games winter event with a 48,000 spectators on Saturday, Jan. 25.
  • ESPN Events, rebranded from ESPN Regional Television (ERT), owns-and-operates a large portfolio of collegiate sporting events worldwide, which accounts for approximately 200 hours of programming, reaches almost 64 million viewers and attracts over a half a million attendees each year. ESPN Events created two college football postseason games that kicked off in 2014: Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala.; and the Boca Raton Bowl in Palm Beach County, Fla. The Charlotte-based group also announced a new Labor Day weekend game at the Orlando Citrus Bowl to begin in 2016 featuring Florida State vs. Ole Miss. ESPN Events now manages three opening weekend college football games, 11 postseason bowl games and eight early-season college basketball events.

TEAM ESPN

  • ESPN’s inaugural “ESPY Day” raised $6.5 million for The V Foundation for Cancer Research through the ESPY Celebrity Golf Classic, the ESPN Radio Auction, an investment from Stand Up to Cancer and donations from viewers. This more than tripled the prior year’s ESPY-related fundraising total. Together with the annual Jimmy V Week, ESPN raised $8 million for cancer research and over the last 12 years, ESPN has raised more than $32 million.
  • ESPN provided access to sports to thousands of children, through better equipment, programs and places to play. Programs included support of USA Football’s “Heads Up Football” program, where more than 3,000 youth and coaches participated in clinics to promote a better, safer game. More than 63,000 students received sports equipment through a collaboration with DonorsChoose.org, and ESPN also announced a new initiative with the National Recreation and Park Association to improve and expand youth sports programs in local parks.
  • As part of ESPN’s Leadership Through Sports program, a collaboration with the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Sports 4 Life debuted, to help boost in sports participation among African-American and Hispanic girls.
  • Caravana do Esporte, which promotes human development through sports for children and teenagers in low-income cities of Brazil, celebrated its 10th year and has now reached more 1.5 million youth participants in 90 Brazilian cities.
  • ESPN and Disney hosted Unified Sporting events in 14 markets globally this year, helping Special Olympics’ goal  of doubling participation in the U.S. to one million participants by 2015, including athletes (individuals with intellectual disabilities), teammates (individuals without intellectual disabilities) and coaches. To date, more than 704,230 athletes and teammates are now playing Unified Sports.
  • Throughout the year, employees invested more than 13,500 hours in the community, impacting nearly 50,000 people through Team ESPN efforts.

 

2014 in Review

January
1 – The Gator Bowl becomes ESPN2’s highest-rated and most-watched bowl game (Nebraska defeats Georgia 24-19): 2.6 rating and an average of 4.5 million viewers.
6 – The final BCS Championship (college football’s new playoff begins in 2015) is cable’s third-biggest audience ever (26.1) and ESPN’s third-best rating (14.4). The unprecedented “BCS Megacast” presentation of 11 options across TV/audio/digital platforms draws critical and consumer acclaim, and is WatchESPN’s most successful event ever.
7 – ESPN Deportes’ 10th Anniversary is marked with 12 hours of live programming.
8 – ESPN opens its 17th building at ESPN Plaza – and first in Southington – a welcome center.
22-26 – X Games Aspen set a new attendance record, and an agreement to keep the Games in Aspen/Snowmass through 2019 was reached.

February  
7 – ESPN International begins extensive live daily coverage the Socchi Winter Olympics throughout Spanish-speaking Latin America, including on broadband ESPN Play.  The agreement also includes the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Jeneiro.
26 – ESPN and ESPN2 are ranked 1-2 in perceived value by cable operators in the Beta Research Survey, with ESPN taking the top spot for the 14th straight year and named the most important network in selling broadband services for the 10th consecutive year.

March
3 – The Walt Disney Company and Dish finalize a comprehensive agreement to deliver Disney and ESPN Media Networks’ content across TV, computers, smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles and other connected devices.  The deal includes several new services – the full suite of authenticated WATCH products as well as the Longhorn Network and the upcoming SECNetwork.
10 – ESPN creates Exit 31, bringing ESPN Films, Grantland and FiveThirtyEight under one umbrella to create offerings in multiplatform storytelling, including topics beyond sports. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com launches March 17.

April
22 – ESPN and the NFL announce ESPN will air its first NFL playoff game during the Wildcard Weekend in January 2015.

May
12 – ESPN and Soccer United Marketing announce an eight-year rights agreement for MLS and U.S. National Team Matches through 2022.  The terms begin in 2015 and include up to 10 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches, 34 regular-season MLS games on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, plus playoff games.  ESPN3 adds extensive outer market rights.

June
5-8 – X Games debuts in Austin, Texas, posts double-digit ratings increases on ABC and draws 160,000 spectators, for a total that surpasses five million over 20 years of X Games.
10 – ESPN Radio shows and events debut on ITunes Radio, available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, iTunes on Mac and Windows, and on Apple TV, the first sports content on iTunes Radio.
12 – The FIFA World Cup in Brazil captures the world’s attention for a month, setting records for ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, WatchESPN, ESPN Brazil. The US-Portugal match June 22 averaged 18.2 million viewers, the most for soccer in U.S. television history.

July
15 – The inaugural ESPY Day Benefitting The V Foundation – a day-long fundraising initiative across ESPN platforms – raised more than $6.5 million.  In addition to the ESPN Radio ESPY Day Auction and the ESPY Celebrity Golf Classic, an ESPYs simulcast on ESPN2 and social media efforts focused on driving donations.

August
14SEC Network launches in more than 60 million homes, including nine of the top 10 distributors, and a schedule of more than 1,000 live events in the first year including 45 football games, more than 100 men’s and 60 women’s basketball games, and 75 baseball games with hundreds more online.
WatchESPN adds SEC Network and Longhorn Network to its offerings.

September
7 – ESPN’s 35th birthday is ESPN Digital’s best day ever – for the first, time averaging more than one million users at any time (previous best was 866,000 on September 15, 2013).
30 – ESPN Digital breaks its own sports category record for unique visitors in any month (just set in August with 82.4 million), reaching more than 94 million people in September, thanks to ESPN Fantasy Football and coverage of the NFL, college football and MLB, and up 29% from a year ago.  The total of 9.9 billion minutes of usage also sets an all-time record for the sports category, while ESPN’s 29.1% category share was more than the Nos. 2 and 3 properties.

October
1 – ESPN Classic on Demand debuts on DISH, offering great games from the past, ESPN’s largest on-demand content offering.
6 – ESPN and the NBA announce a nine-year (through 2024-25 season) agreement to significantly enhance NBA rights and content offerings, including additional games, other content across platforms, expanded rights for ESPN Audio and ESPN International, and the WNBA.

November
29 – ESPN’s most-viewed college football regular-season game – Auburn at Alabama, viewed by 13.5 million viewers – leads to the most-viewed regular-season Saturday (6.3 million).

December
23 – The Walt Disney Company and DirecTV finalize a comprehensive agreement to deliver Disney and ESPN Media Networks’ content across TV, computers, smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles and other connected devices.  The deal adds several services, including the full suite of authenticated WATCH products as well as ESPN3 and the Longhorn Network.

29 – ESPN closes the year as the most-watched cable network in prime time for the first time in its history. ESPN averaged 2,300,000 viewers, up five percent from 2013.

31-   ESPN Digital Media finishes the best year ever in the sports category, with 9.97 billion visits, 82.8 billion minutes of content consumed, 12.9 billion minutes of WatchESPN streamed and 4.8 billion views of video clips.

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