ESPN is making a play for Gen Z by putting its social media might behind a new network of content creators, the network told Front Office Sports.
The Worldwide Leader is launching ESPN Creator Network, a program that will provide up-close access to ESPN’s sports properties — as well as the company’s considerable resources — to up-and-coming content creators.
The first iteration will begin in October and run for about four months. ESPN will select 10 creators, and talent/social strategist Omar Raja is the lead ambassador.
“What we’re continuing to see from our sports community on social channels increasingly is this gravitation toward first-person, authentic content creation,” said ESPN’s VP of Social Media Kaitee Daley. “ESPN has always been fan-centric and Creator Network is our new-age way of expressing that.”
TikTok will be the program’s primary focus: It was the most-downloaded app of 2021, per Daley, and ESPN has a strong presence on it.
“We feel like we have this strong handle on the width of the platform,” Daley says. “We feel like this program can help us understand a little bit more of that depth and connect with more niche sport fan communities that thrive on TikTok, Instagram, et cetera, and with these creators who are at the earlier stages of building their communities.”
ESPN is partnering with social-led content agency Blue Hour Studios on the initiative.
Creators in the program will not be compensated but will be provided with travel, tickets, access, equipment, and a series of learning courses.
“It’s going to be the creators’ discretion how they choose to program their channels, and then it’ll be our discretion how we choose to elevate.” says Daley. “We don’t want to force it because we don’t want the creators to feel like this is a one-way street.”
This is not the first time ESPN’s parent, The Walt Disney Company, has tried something like this: In 2021, the company’s parks division launched a similar program called Disney Creators Lab.
While the name of ESPN’s version may not be as flashy, Daley feels like it gets the message across perfectly.
“We’ve just been referring to it as that internally. … Sometimes what you call it internally is probably the best thing for it externally.”