ESPN Hopes Shorts Score

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Viewers looking to catch the latest highlights on ESPN’s SportsCenter may now find 90-second sponsored films featuring beer and household products when they tune to the total sports network.

ESPN cut deals with Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Miller Brewing Co. to run six-minute films, featuring product placements from the sponsors. The units, called “ESPN Shorts,” will be broken up into 90-second spots running over a two-month period.

The retailer’s segments, which tell the story of a burned-out baseball scout who discovers a talented young groundskeeper, feature Sears and Craftsman products. They began running last week.

The shorts from Miller, relating the story of a Boston family that is passionate about baseball, will debut in May.

“The family will spend some time in an establishment that provides beverages, and Miller will be a brand they celebrate while they’re in the establishment,” said Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN/ABC Sports customer marketing and sales. “I’m talking about a bar, of course.”

Depending upon each week’s commercial load on SportsCenter, ESPN may reduce the amount of editorial content on the program in order to run the shorts, Erhardt said.

ESPN hopes the strategy will help advertisers keep viewers hooked on their spots. The network also expects that the shorts could be effective with the growing penetration of ad-skipping digital video recorders, Erhardt said.

“This absolutely addresses what’s going on in television today.”

Sears and Miller will run 35 or 40 of the 90-second segments each, including repeats.

Erhardt said ESPN is talking to other advertisers about running similar shorts, but he declined to name any companies.

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