ESPN is hoping that the growth of digital technology will
allow operators to carry the full "ESPN GamePlan"college-football
package into cable homes and generate more revenue for operators.
With additional pay-per-view channels possible via digital,
operators will be able to offer ESPN's 110-game college-football PPV schedule -- as
many as 10 games each Saturday -- for the first time. For years, operators were only able
to cherry-pick games to distribute via analog-PPV channels.
"The biggest change for us has been the rollout of
digital, which allows operators to roll out a more robust schedule," ESPN director of
sales and marketing Skip Desjardin said. "We're convinced that the more games
offered, the better the product will perform; the DBS [direct-broadcast satellite] model
shows us that it can work."
The package will get a boost from Viewer's Choice,
which will offer GamePlan as part of its 33-channel digital-PPV service, although
it's unclear how many Viewer's Choice subscribers will have access to the full
"This is the first time cable has been able to really
offer the package in its entirety, so it's given the industry a lift to be able to
finally level the playing field [with DBS]," Desjardin said.
In addition, the package will again be offered via DirecTV
Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp.'s Dish Network.
Desjardin said the package's performance on DBS last
year generated "double-digit growth" compared with the year before, but he would
not reveal specific figures.
Although the digital universe is still relatively small,
Desjardin believes the industry will eventually be able to generate significant revenue
from the package. "Cable hasn't seen the kind of growth that we would have liked
up to this point, but hopefully, digital will push revenues for the industry," he
Operators, however, will charge more for the package this
year. The regular-season and "early bird" prices will jump by $10, to $99.89 and
$89.99, respectively. The full-day price will also increase by $1 to $11.95.
To help promote the package, ESPN is offering a sweepstakes
giving the winner a trip to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, Desjardin said.
Meanwhile, to help promote dish sales, Dish has developed a
tie-in with Sears, Roebuck & Co. stores. Consumers purchasing DBS dishes and GamePlan
during the month of August will receive free ESPN sweatshirts. Sears will run ads
promoting the offer in 1,600 of its stores, as well as a full-page ad in USA Today,
The network has also signed its first MSO promotional
campaign. Comcast Corp. will offer GamePlan buyers free, ESPN-produced college-football
greatest-games videotapes, he added.
"Had we had more time, we probably could have put more
national and MSO campaigns together, but we're enthusiastic about our promotional
efforts," Desjardin said.
On the local level, more operators are signing up for
marketing programs, such as customer-service-representative promotions, as the package
becomes more widely known by subscribers.
"With the expansion of channel capacity, operators are
also becoming more aggressive in selling the service to local bars and restaurants, which
adds to their revenues," Desjardin said.