In the latest volley in an increasingly nasty fight, ESPN has launched an ad campaign in Cox Communications Inc.’s top markets -- as well as a Web site -- warning consumers that the MSO plans to move the sports network onto a tier that will cost more.
The web site (www.keepespn.com) also provides consumers with information about how to buy a satellite dishes, with the URLs and phone numbers for both DirecTV Inc. (www.directv.com/DTVAPP/index.dsp) and EchoStar Communications Corp.’s Dish Network (www.dishnetwork.com).
In conjunction with the newly minted Web site, ESPN rolled out an ad campaign that includes both print and radio spots. So far, it has broken in Cox strongholds such as Phoenix; Oklahoma City; Wichita, Kan.; San Diego and Orange County, Calif.; and New Orleans. Ads reportedly ran in newspapers such as The Orange County Register.
The home page of ESPN’s new Web site tells viewers, "Don’t let Cox Cable take away your SportsCenter,"and then rotates in the titles of other marquee shows, such as NFL PrimeTime, Sunday NFL Countdown and Outside the Lines.
"Cox Cable wants to rip ESPN from your basic-cable lineup," the Web site says. It also claims that Cox would charge extra for a tier with ESPN and that consumers would be forced to buy or rent set-top boxes from Cox at $4 per box, per month.
As far as the ad campaign, on Wednesday, for example, ESPN ran a three-quarter-page ad in the sports section of The Register in Southern California, where the MSO has a large cluster. That ad told consumers that if they want ESPN to stay on basic, they should call Cox, and it then gave the main phone number for Cox’s Orange County headquarters in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.
The system already has a voicemail in place in response to the ad. Callers to that cluster are transferred to a mailbox, which explains Cox's position on anticipated ESPN rate increases.
The recording -- on the mailbox at the extension for vice president and general manager Leo Brennan -- explains that Cox is not removing ESPN from its lineup. The female voice adds that ESPN's rates have increased 20% with each of the last few contracts. Cox is committed to ending these increases, she adds.
The recording directs callers to Cox's Web site on the subject (www.makethemplayfair.com) for more information.
A system spokeswoman did not say how many messages had been left in the mailbox.
Cox also had a brief official response to ESPN’s Web sites and ads.
"ESPN’s advertising claims in today’s papers serve merely to deflect attention from the fact that the network has raised prices 20% annually for the past five years and is seeking similar increases in the future," a Cox spokesman said.
"It is irresponsible for ESPN to force Cox customers to bear these unreasonable increases in the current low inflation and slow-growing economy," he added.
ESPN officials called their Web site and ad campaign "the first phase of an information campaign in Cox markets."
"Regrettably, Cox’s campaign of threats and misinformation compels us to set the record straight and give consumers facts, not rhetoric," ESPN executive VP of affiliate sales and marketing Sean Bratches said in a prepared statement Wednesday.