Cable Upfronts 2010: ESPN: 2011 Is Year Of QB

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As futbol, the world's most popular sport, is about to take much of center stage for ESPN properties next month, quarterback, the most important player in football -- the American game the giant sports programmer makes most of its bones with it -- will be under more of the microscope than usual in 2011.
At its upfront presentation to advertisers here Tuesday morning, the worldwide sports leader declared that 2011 will be the "Year of the Quarterback." Spanning the run of 2011, ESPN will analyze sports' most critical position across all of its vehicles, examining QB myths and legends and delving into the physical, mental and leadership attributes necessary to succeed. ESPN on-air talent and former QBs Steve Young, Trent Dilfer, Ron Jaworski and Kirk Herbstreit, among others, will afford their views.
Monday Night Football game analyst Jon Gruden, who held "Quarterback Camp" segments with four of the top college prospects going into the 2010 NFL draft, appeared with SportsNation host Michelle Beadle in introducing the multi-armed project.
Beadle was front and center with show co-host Colin Cowherd as ESPN switched to a SportsNation-themed upfront, after mock SportsCenter telecasts served as the advertising forum the past two years.
Elsewhere, ESPN officials talked up new shows on ESPN Deportes and ESPNU, as well as its upcoming entry into social gaming and the release of new iPhone apps, before attendees --  including ESPN and ABC Sports president George Bodenheimer and Robert Iger, CEO of parent The Walt Disney Co. -- at the Nokia Theater in Times Square.
For college sports network ESPNU, the big news, aside from the addition of some 50 million homes over the past year that has lifted its subscriber base to 73 million, is the spring 2011 bow of U-Nite, a daily show at midnight that will "cheer, debate and celebrate" anything of interest to viewers across the realms of sports and pop culture, including gaming, music and technology.
At Spanish-language network ESPN Deportes, imitation is again the sincerest form of flattery as it prepares to launch Nacion ESPN, its version of the fan interaction-friendly SportsNation, in first quarter 2011. Hosted by Adriana Monsalve and David Faitelson, who were on stage during the upfront, Nacion ESPN will be the network's studio show produced from the company's Los Angeles studios.
For its part, ESPN Interactive has inked a two-year deal with social gaming firm Playdom to develop ESPN-branded sports games for the two companies' respective sites, as well as social media platforms, including Facebook, MySpace and Bebo. Two are currently in development and are scheduled to premiere come fall.
"Our deal with Playdom marks ESPN's first major presence into the social gaming space," said Raphael Poplock, vice president of games and revenue strategy and development for ESPN Digital Media, in announcing the pact, terms of which were not disclosed. "The sports genre for this category of games has gone virtually untapped thus far, and through this agreement, we have an opportunity to be in front of a highly engaged audience and at the forefront of what is currently the fastest growing games category out there."
In the mobile space, ESPN will look to expand its reach with the release of six local-based iPhone and iPod touch apps -- five tied to scores and breaking news about hometown squads teams in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Dallas.
A sixth, titled ESPN Passport, will launch in the next month and allow fans to chronicle at-game experiences via digital scrapbook functions, such as photo uploads, commentary and virtual ticket stubs. Another key feature: fans will be able to check in and confirm their game attendance via GPS location verification.
As to the World Cup, which kicks off on June 11 and concludes on July 11, the programmer's multiplatform presentation will include 25 3D matches that will be available on the premiere of its ESPN 3D network, which at this points counts DirecTV and Comcast as affiliates.
The opening contest, pitting host nation South Africa and Mexico, keys 18 matches over 17 consecutive days, games that include the U.S. vs. Slovenia on June 18 and Portugal vs. Brazil on June 25. Other top contenders that will show their stuff on the pitch in the enhanced format: Argentina (June 12), Germany (June 13), Netherlands (June 14), Spain (June 21) and Italy (June 24).
Three of the quarterfinals, the semis, the third-place match and the final will be available in 3D.