APRIL 6, 2022 - Disney pulled back the curtain on cutting-edge brand integrations and new, original programming on ESPN at its third annual Sports Summit on Wednesday, April 6 as part of the Road to the Upfront. In an hour-long presentation featuring Disney leadership, on-air ESPN talent and league heavyweights representing the MLB, NBA, WNBA, NHL and Big Ten, Disney solidified its position in the sports space.
“Sports is a strategic driver of our business and over the past year we’ve seen tremendous demand from advertisers because of the strength of the sports marketplace,” said Rita Ferro, President, Disney Advertising. “Sports is such an important piece of what we do that we wanted to double down on the topic as a part of our road to the Upfront.”
Jimmy Pitaro, Chairman, ESPN and Sports Content opened the show, detailing the strides ESPN is making towards the future with SportsCenter anchor Sage Steele. Pitaro underscored the Company’s string of recent rights acquisitions, and how Disney is expanding its sports audience to include younger, female, multicultural and casual fans.
“Most of our efforts, most of how we spend our time is around setting ourselves up for the future. And that starts with doubling down on what we consider to be our foundation: our live games,” said Pitaro. “But that's not our only focus. With a forward-looking lens we have also set our sights on our original content and studio shows.”
Later, commissioners including the NHL’s Gary Bettman, MLB’s Rob Manfred, NBA’s Adam Silver and the Big 10 Conference’s Kevin Warren gathered for a roundtable discussion hosted by SportsCenter’s Hannah Storm. During the dialogue exclusively orchestrated by Disney, the commissioners spoke to the current state and future projections of their respective leagues.
Football on ESPN is unrivaled and Laura Rutledge, Dan Orlovsky & Marcus Spears gave viewers the top 5 reasons why. As in-house experts on the subject, Rutledge, Orlovsky and Spears discuss what sets ESPN apart as broadcasters of college and professional football.
An inclusive approach to sports has always been a business priority for Disney. Deidra Maddock, Vice President, Disney Advertising Sports Brand Solutions, who was recording from the ESPN Headquarters in Bristol was joined by Cathy Engelbert, WNBA commissioner from the New York City studio and Chiney Ogwumike, power forward for the Los Angeles Sparks and ESPN basketball analyst, from the ESPN studio in Los Angeles. Together, the three discussed the compelling sports stories around the game and the work ESPN has accomplished for more than two decades to amplify women athletes.
While everyone knows ESPN for live sports, it has a rich history of enriched storytelling of athletes beyond the playing field and the business of sports. Brian Lockhart, Senior Vice President, Original Content & ESPN Films, outlined the plan for the 15 ESPN films and 30 for 30 projects in production, spotlighting The Captain, Southern Dance and 37 Words.
As the most followed sports brand on social media, ESPN has built one of the most engaged communities and loyal fanbases of followers. Kaitee Daley, Vice President, ESPN Social Media, sat with ESPN talent Omar Raja to discuss ESPN’s one of a kind social media presence.
Ferro wrapped up the presentation with a lens into how brands can tap into Disney’s sports audiences. Now, more than ever, sports fans are engaging with games, content and athletes in new and different ways and streaming has opened the door for increased accessibility. Disney’s insights and solutions empower brands to meet sports fans whenever and wherever they are, and across all screens.
The thought-provoking discussion ignited insightful remarks from Disney’s leadership:
“Over the past two years, we’ve closed a massive string of rights acquisitions – the most significant stretch in our 42-year history … PGA Tour, SEC, NFL, MLB, NHL, LaLiga, Wimbledon, NFL Wild Card on Monday Nights, etc.” - Jimmy Pitaro
"Over the past two years, we’ve closed a massive string of rights acquisitions – the most significant stretch in our 42-year history." - Jimmy Pitaro
"Women’s Sports. It’s one of the fastest growing sectors in sports, with female athletes captivating more fans than ever before." - Deidra Maddock
“We just wrapped another record-breaking women’s tournament, from the selection show which was up over 160% from last year, to the exciting first two rounds, to the final buzzer this past Sunday night— March Madness really lived up to its billing. And nearly a million fans participated in ESPN’s Women’s Tournament Challenge… almost 2 million brackets… the best we’ve ever seen.” - Deidra Maddock
“ESPN is a Top 3 brand on TikTok, not just in sports - but overall brand. And while we’re bragging, we also have the best talent on social media so you can think of them as social influencers and unlock additional views when you partner with Disney CreativeWorks on branded content campaigns.” - Kaitee Daley
"If you align your brand with ESPN’s content you’re tapping in to literally one of the most engaged communities in the digital ecosystem." - Katiee Daley
“Diversity in storytelling is our strength.” - Brian Lockhart
“Sports is a unifier. Connecting us at Live Games and events, mobilizing us through virtual experiences and activations. Truly captivating audiences and driving cultural moments like nothing else can. It’s why our always-on strategy is so crucial. Every game, every match, every highlight is a story.” - Rita Ferro
“When you add it up, the rights, the consumer insights, watching anywhere, anytime on every device, well, as we like to say, ESPN IS UNRIVALED.” - Rita Ferro
"Sports fans are engaging with games, content and athletes in new and different ways and streaming has opened the door for increased accessibility.” - Rita Ferro
Disney’s Rolled out Key Announcements:
Disney's Commitment to Women's Sports is Changing the Game
Disney Leans Into Audiences and Innovation To Bring A Slate Of Categories Closer To The Sports Fan
Kristen Smith | Kristen.T.Smith@Disney.com