But its presentation by Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of ESPN and Sports Content, during Disney Investor Day on Dec. 10, highlighted his strategy for a new ESPN driven by “marquee” live game rights and exclusive streaming content.
“Overall, our priority is to make content available across all platforms. That includes a strong focus on a direct-to-consumer future,” Pitaro said. “Our underlying goal is to acquire, create, and distribute the best sports content. And to do so in a way that serves fans, maximizes consumption, and best positions our business to continue to be the leader in an evolving sports media environment.”
The biggest news was Pitaro formally announcing a 10-year agreement to make ESPN the exclusive carrier of all SEC Conference football and men’s basketball games starting with the 2024/2025 season.
With the deal, ESPN will take over the SEC football game of the week and championship from rival CBS Sports.
But there were other announcements showing how ESPN, like parent Disney, is staking its future on content and streaming growth via ESPN+, which has grown to 11.5 million subscribers. That’s triple what it had in the fourth quarter of 2019.
— Stephen A. Smith, the face of ESPN, will host a new studio show exclusively on ESPN+ in early 2021. “We’re excited to bring another personality of his caliber to the platform. We look forward to further expanding his reach across our different consumer touchpoints,” Pitaro said.
— There will also be a new daily morning highlights show on ESPN+ that will recap the previous night’s action.
— The new “PGA Tour Live on ESPN+” will feature four live feeds of up to eight groups per tournament.
Frustrated by the layoff one of his producers with no notice, Dan Le Batard went to ESPN and asked to be released from his contract early, said sources.
— With ESPN still basking in the critical praise for “The Last Dance,” Pitaro also touted the upcoming nine-part documentary, “Man in the Arena,” about Tom Brady’s nine Super Bowl appearances.
— Peyton Manning beamed in to announce the third season for “Peyton’s Places” on ESPN+. Season 2 guests this year include former U.S. President Bill Clinton, John Elway, Marshawn Lynch and David Letterman. “The best is yet to come,” Manning said. Little brother Eli Manning will appear as a guest on the series, he added.
—Meanwhile, ESPN+ will continue to be the exclusive home of the “30 for 30” franchise, “NFL PrimeTime” with Chris Berman and Booger McFarland and “Detail.” The platform will be directly integrated into Disney’s Hulu next year.
— In digital, ESPN is the No. 1 sports brand “by a wide margin in both reach and total time spent,” Pitaro said. Subscribers watched over 5 billion minutes of live sports content across sports like UFC, soccer, boxing, and college athletics.
— In 2019, the flagship ESPN was the No. 1 cable network among the ad-friendly 18-49 year old demographic for the 10th consecutive year.
Across its entire portfolio, ESPN reaches more than 200 million U.S. sports fans in a given month.
“That’s on par with the total reach of both Google and Facebook,” Pitaro said.