ESPN this month will visit seven colleges and universities in an attempt to drive demand for ESPNews and ESPN Classic on campus cable systems.
During the first day of each of the two-day stops, ESPN will blanket the campuses with promotional materials in college newspapers, radio ads, posters and day-one flyers — all to drive attendance for the next day's "Full Court Press" event.
During the outdoor, basketball-themed events, participating students have the chance to win ESPN-themed merchandise, such as hats, jackets and T-shirts, vice president of affiliate marketing E.J. Conlin said.
In a variation on the popular playground game "Horse," students will be asked to shoot a basketball from different positions on the court to collect the letters that comprise ESPN's name, she added.
ESPN will also hold a sweepstakes at each college. The prize is a trip for two to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn. Winners will watch a SportsCenter
telecast in-studio, tour the network's headquarters and meet on-air personalities.
In return, ESPN asks students to sign a petition requesting that the college add ESPNews and ESPN Classic to their cable lineup.
"It's a market segment that has a tremendous distribution potential," Conlin said, noting that college students fall within the 18-to-34 target group for the networks.
ESPN has partnered with YouthStream Media Networks Inc., a company that hosts promotional tours on college campuses, because it has already built "fabulous relationships" with colleges and universities, Conlin said.
At ESPN's first stop, Emory University in Atlanta in early April, the company collected over 700 signatures for its petition and gathered 125 sweepstakes entries. Students were also given the option of mailing in the entry forms before May 30.
At Penn State University, ESPN collected 530 petitions and 102 sweepstakes entries.
"We didn't have great weather that weekend, but the kids still came out," Conlin said.
While collecting signatures during the petition drive, ESPN also asked students to complete a questionnaire about their viewing habits. Because the questionnaire is tied to the petition, Conlin said, she believes that students who choose to sign are "genuine and earnest."
The tour wraps up today (April 29) at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.
Conlin said ESPN is pleased with the amount of on-campus buzz the campaign has created, but it's still too early to know what impact the petitions will have on future negotiations with special-markets operators.
ESPN plans to monitor how the campaign affects distribution before determining whether to take the tour to other colleges next year. It may also look to host football-themed events next fall.