ESPN Puts Push Behind PPV Marketing

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In an effort to put more of its national sports-brand clout behind its pay-per-view programming, ESPN plans to market its various PPV franchises through its core affiliate-sales and marketing departments.

ESPN's affiliate-marketing staff will take over the task of promoting PPV college football, college basketball and Major League Soccer, as well as the ESPN Now and ESPN Extra PPV networks, according to senior vice president of affiliate sales and marketing Sean Bratches. The job of promoting the PPV packages had belonged to ESPN's distribution-development group.

Bratches said bundling the PPV properties with ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Classic would help build awareness of the PPV products and identify them more closely with the powerful ESPN sports brand.

The move is also an effort to better exploit the PPV potential of the burgeoning digital-cable business.

"Historically, ESPN PPV has been basically a [direct-broadcast satellite] business, but with the proliferation of digital cable, we believe this is a way to drive more value with the ESPN-branded PPV services," Bratches said. "We see a huge potential for growth, and we will leverage our strengths in the market to help push PPV."

While ESPN has offered its "ESPN Game Plan" (college football), "ESPN Full Court" (college basketball) and "MLS/ ESPN Shootout" (professional soccer) out-of-market packages to operators for several years, it has been unable to get sufficient operator carriage, mostly due to a lack of analog-PPV-channel capacity.

Digital cable offers greater opportunities for distribution. ESPN's packages reach about 2 million households through AT & T Broadband's Headend in the Sky digital package. But the ESPN packages have thus far not received the fanfare enjoyed by higher-profile offerings, such as the National Basketball Association's "NBA League Pass" and the National Hockey League's "NHL Center Ice."

Nevertheless, the ESPN packages generated more than $52 million last year, mostly from DBS, according to The Carmel Group.

Newly named vice president of PPV and special-markets distribution product Matt Murphy said ESPN will dedicate people in each region to handle PPV marketing, and it will shift people internally where appropriate.

He added that moving affiliate marketing under ESPN's wing will give the packages the same marketing focus afforded to other ESPN cable properties. "We will be able to tap into a vast marketing team that will be focused on the marketing of ESPN PPV" products, he said.

"We feel that we have a good product, and the most effective representation of that product would come from ESPN. We want to augment what is already done by In Demand [LLC]," Murphy added.

ESPN will give PPV a greater presence on its affiliate Web site, providing operators with marketing and promotional support.

Murphy added that ESPN would develop affiliate promotions around its PPV programming similar to its National Football League and Major League Baseball campaigns.

There will also be a greater ESPN PPV presence at trade shows. "We will find ways to integrate our PPV business right into our core business," he said.

ESPN executives also said the company would emphasize the revenue advantages its PPV packages provide to operators. ESPN's out-of-market packages return 50 percent of sales back to the industry, compared with the 20 percent to 30 percent splits operators generate from the professional-sports out-of-market packages.

"We provide the best splits in the PPV business, and one of our major assignments is to communicate that to the operator," Murphy said.