ESPN Preps for Bigger Full Court

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Armed with its widest distribution universe ever, ESPN ishoping to drive significant buys and revenue for the upcoming season of its "ESPNFull Court" out-of-market college-basketball package.

ESPN will distribute its more-than-450-game Full Courtpackage to almost 12 million digital-cable and direct-broadcast satellite subscribers --the most ever for the five-year-old package -- director of sales, marketing anddistribution development Skip Desjardin said.

The package will benefit from approximately 1.5 milliondigital-cable homes via the Headend in the Sky digital sports transponder. "Thisrepresents the first time that we have widespread cable distribution," Desjardinsaid.

ESPN will also add EchoStar Communications Corp.'sDish Network's more than 3 million subscribers to its Full Court distribution base,he added.

"We are pleased with this enthusiastic commitment byour satellite and cable distributors to make the ESPN Full Court out-of-marketcollege-basketball package available to more consumers than ever before," vicepresident of distribution development Bryan Burns said. "The significant increase indistribution for ESPN Full Court offers viewers a more attractive selection of games eachweek."

ESPN will sell the service at a suggested retail price of$99 for the full season. The network will also offer an $89 early bird PPV package.

To help support the package, ESPN has developed a nationaladvertising campaign that will utilize print, radio and television ads. Desjardin said thecampaign will also include target marketing in several select markets through variousMSOs.

ESPN is hoping to ride the rising interest in collegebasketball. Desjardin said college-basketball ratings on both ESPN and ESPN 2 increasedsignificantly last year compared with the 1997-98 season. Furthermore, Full Courtgenerated its highest revenue performance ever last year, although he would not providespecific numbers.

"Across the brand, we have seen an increase in thepopularity of college basketball," Desjardin said. "We hope to be at a pointwhere sales for Full Court and [ESPN's more successful 'GamePlan'college-football PPV package] are the same."

The package -- which will offer up to 30 games per week --includes games from top conferences such as the Big Ten, the Atlantic Coast Conference,the Big East, the Southeastern Conference, the Big 12, Conference USA, the Atlantic 10 andthe Mountain West.