LOWDOWN ON THE UPFRONT: 'SportsCenter' Moment


NEW YORK--ESPN’s presentation to advertisers, appropriately enough, was billed as SportsCenter “Upfront Edition.”

Indeed, the big news coming out of the event, held Tuesday morning at the Nokia Theatre in Times Square, was that the sports behemoth’s flagship show will, starting Aug. 11 during the Beijing Olympics, go live weekdays from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Replacing the current encore wheel, the show will feature three tandems of two main anchors, with Hannah Storm, late of the CBS Early Show, set to co-host from 9 a.m. to noon. ESPN executive vice president of content John Skipper said after the event that the new live shows will be manned by extant talent and that a Storm’s co-host has been selected. That announcement will come in a few weeks.

Skipper, who engaged in an extended “fact and fiction” segment/schtick with SportsCenter anchor Scott Van Pelt about ESPN content and its place in the market during the event, said the ratings for the encore editions of the show hold up "pretty consistently" and the impetus behind the decision was to present fans with more news/information -- not to mention affording more sponsor opportunities. To that end, the "Bottom Line" scroll will continue to roll during the breaks as commercials air in the space above.

The live SportsCenter will succeed the encore editions from the night before, a schedule ESPN has deployed since 1996.

Other SportsCenter changes will manifest next April in the form of upgraded studio sets at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., plus a new on-air graphics package. At the time, ESPN will also launch a 1 a.m. (ET) edition of the show from a new facility in Los Angeles near the Staples Center.

There was plenty of other tidbits at the upfront:

*Come fall, ESPN.com will get a new, easier to navigate design, replete with a news/analysis section, and various filters for sports, topic or writer;

*In development are SportsNation, an afternoon show for ESPN, in which hosts will discuss topics selected through the company’s polling mechanism; and Time Line, a late-night entry for ESPN2, during which the night’s results and tomorrow’s events will be examined;

* Rick Reilly, the former Sports Illustrated star writer who joins ESPN June 1, will not only working for ESPN The Magazine and online, but will host an Inside the Actors Studio-type show from where the athlete was born or grew up. Hometown is scheduled to tip with Charles Barkley from Leeds, Ala.

*Original digital content series are also on the drawing board, including  “It’s The Shoes,” a look at sneaker collectors; “Street Soccer,” “POV,” and “Mayne Street,” hosted by the net’s off-beat commentator Kenny Mayne. Presumably, the latter is modeled after Mayne’s spoof on finale episode of The Sopranos, part of which was screened during the presentation.

*The launch of an action sports Web portal that Skipper said would feature online components, and live events, a la broadband service ESPN360.com;

*Spike Lee, who was in the house, has filmed Los Angeles Lakers star and NBA MVP Kobe Bryant’s game-day routine and play from an April 13 match-up against the San Antonio Spurs. The film, using 18 cameras, was inspired by Zidane, a 21st Century Portrait, which Lee saw at Cannes Film Festival several years ago. That film trained 17 cameras on French international midfielder Zinedine (Zizou) Zidane in a match he played for Real Madrid in 2005.;

*Robert Redford has become involved with ESPN Films’ theatrical about Jackie Robinson. In addition to co-producing, Redford will play Branch Rickey.