ESPN Sets Bar High for Full Court


Encouraged by increased digital-cable distribution, ESPN is bullish about the potential pay-per-view performance of its
ESPN Full Court

out-of-market pay-per-view college basketball package.

The package, which will offer as many as 500 games during the 2000-01 college basketball season, will launch this week in 300 cable systems and in front of 3 million subscribers-1 million subscribers over last year's numbers-ESPN video products group vice president Skip Desjardin said.

Desjardin credits the subscriber increase to the industry's fast-paced digital cable rollout. Unlike previous years, when operators' limited PPV channel allocation handicapped
Full Court
's penetration levels, the additional PPV channels offered through digital have provided increased distribution opportunities for the package.

"We saw a huge jump last year, but we have an even bigger increase this year due to the increased rollout of digital technology," Desjardin said.

The distribution increases also bode well for the package's performance, although Desjardin would not provide specific details. The package is expected to generate about $52 million in both cable and direct-broadcast satellite revenue in 2001, according to estimates from the Carmel Group.

Rather than delegate the majority of the package's marketing dollars to straight advertising, ESPN will devote a significant portion to educating subscribers on the nuances of the package. Promotional materials will include how to order the event, which retails at a suggested price of $99. ESPN is also offering an early-bird price of $89 through November.

"Our efforts are in educating the public about the overall package as opposed to hard core marketing," Desjardin said.

ESPN isn't concerned about
Full Court

getting lost among the various out-of-market packages now being offered via cable. With operators aggressively marketing
NBA League Pass

NHL Center Ice
, some industry observers believe that non-pro packages like
Full Court

could suffer.

Desjardin believes
Full Court

will be able to hold its own against the other packages.

"Everybody's boat rises when the tide comes, and I think the package will perform well despite the competition," Desjardin said. "There's not the kind of crossover between college basketball fans and NBA fans as there is between college basketball and college football fans."

Further, subscribers and operators benefit from having a choice of PPV sports packages. "As a whole, everyone benefits when you have as many choices as possible," he said.

Along with cable, Desjardin said ESPN would remain aggressive in the DBS market with the package. Both DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp.'s Dish Network will distribute the package. Combined, the two services have provided double-digit revenue growth over the last year, although Desjardin would not give specific figures.