Cox, ESPN Hope to Make Memories

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While attendees are coming to see the collectibles — or have theirs appraised — Cox Communications Inc. and ESPN hope the visitors walk away from their integrated promotion with branding memories.

The Atlanta-based MSO and the sports programming giant are winding down a 15-city sports memorabilia tour, which began last fall and marks the first wide-reaching initiative between Cox and ESPN since the parties settled license-fee differences that boiled over early last year.

Slated to stop in Orange County, Calif., on Feb. 26, the program affords visitors a chance to bring in their own sports collectibles to be valued by professional appraisers, while also providing a look at national and local notions rounded up by ESPN. To that end, attendees have seen bats used by Barry Bonds, seats from the Montreal Forum, and a SportsCenter logo from the original set.

Local items — such as a Tony Gwynn rookie trading card and Goose Gossage Padres cap when the tour touched down in San Diego on Feb. 13, attracting 700 visitors and 250 appraisals — have also been on display.

Sports memories aside, the tour serves as a touching and viewing point for Cox’s advanced products.

“[They] wanted us to develop an exclusive program, combining ad sales, marketing and public-affairs outreach that was brought to the community by Cox using the ESPN brand,” said ESPN vice president of affiliate ad sales and brand extension marketing Gary Perrelli. “We brought them a concept that we thought could work for their high-speed Internet, HD and digital-cable services. With a few minor tweaks, they loved it.”

Said Cox Media corporate marketing and sales development manager Mary Blythe Kane: “We wanted something that was different, that could support our goals across ad sales, system marketing and public affairs. The tour has been a great success in accomplishing those goals, and we’ve been very pleased with the professionalism of the appraisers and the quality of memorabilia.”

Some of the more notable appraised items: a Babe Ruth autographed baseball and a Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls jersey valued at $20,000.

Perrelli said the tour also enabled ESPN to tie in its “Play Your Way” program, in which people donate used sports equipment to encourage youth fitness, and forward the contributions to local Boys and Girls Clubs, to which Cox has strong corporate ties.

Although Cox marketing representatives are on-site, the tour has been used for sampling, not a hard acquisition push. “This gives us great awareness, and allows customers to see and touch our products first hand,” Kane said. “Having ESPN HD on display is a nice complement to our HD.”

Awareness has been created through on-air promos, including hundreds of taggable sponsor spots. Local sponsors, which also hold on-site presence options, have ranged from auto dealerships (Toyota and Mazda, among them), sporting goods retailers, malls, restaurants, gas stations (Amoco), insurance companies (GEICO) and hotels (Holiday Inn). In addition to flagging the tour, these venues have often served as an equipment drop-off point as part of the Play Your Way component.

The tour has also been featured on local Internet service Cox.net — which displayed scenes from prior events and the items that were appraised, plus ESPN’s “Wall of Fame.”

The local ESPN Radio affiliate did a remote from the stop in Las Vegas, which attracted more than 550 attendees and where 400 items were appraised, according to Kane.

With the final stop set for Eureka, Calif. on March 5, Kane and Perrelli said the parties would evaluate whether to reprise the tour or initiate another integrated program.

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