Walt Disney Co. Advertising Sales President Rita Ferro said sports is "a unifier," connecting consumers and brands through live events, games and ancillary programming across platforms.
At a virtual ESPN Sports Summit on April 6, Ferro said the programmer's "Always On" strategy brings people together across gender, race and age groups, via its live sports coverage, highlights, analysis, interviews, debates, predictions and original content.
Sports offer brands a more than 40% lift in such key ad metrics as familiarity, recall and recommendations, she said. Fandom cuts across demos and age with enthusiasts ranging from 8 to 80, with over 40% of Generation Z indicating they follow sports closely.
Streaming on TV is just the tip of the iceberg, according to the executive, pointing to content on video-on-demand platforms, websites, social platforms, fantasy leagues, podcasts and more through ESPN (US), ABC (US), Hulu LLC and ESPN+. She noted that 75% of sports fans believe that streaming makes sports better, giving them access to more content and athletes across myriad devices.
Company executives noted that ESPN generates 430 million social impressions daily through its own outlets and by working with third parties. The presentation included footage of such content with talent talking up ties to brands: "The Kickoff" with Dodge Ram trucks, "Happy Stream" with Doordash and "Playoff Tailgate" with Pizza Hut.
Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of ESPN Inc. and sports content, noted the flagship network registered a strong first quarter with its overall audience ahead 40% in primetime and 32% in total day from the corresponding period in 2021. Studio fare, including "SportsCenter," has grown its audiences during the span.
Three-quarters of Americans, or roughly 175 million, watch college and pro football, with each tuning in for an average of 50 hours per season. ESPN networks and ABC reach 75% of that group.
That group includes 100 million who tune into ESPN's expansive coverage of the kickoff of the college football season on Labor Day weekend.
"Monday Night Football" enjoyed its most-watched season since 2010. Moreover, the first-ever Monday night Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals now ranks as the most-watched game since ESPN supplanted ABC as the franchise's rights-holder in 2006.
Marketers investing in "MNF" schedules, the presenters said, can benefit from heightened metrics, as top advertisers in the property saw respective gains of 66%, 48% and 37% in awareness, consideration and attention over non-football viewers.
The company trumpeted the recently completed cross-platform coverage of the women's version of the March Madness college basketball tournament, which netted a 16% jump in average game audience. ESPN expects improved deliveries for its presentation of the WNBA playoffs, as the pro basketball league is adding games to its playoff format.
All told, ESPN's various platforms will present 26,000 hours of live women's sports event coverage this year. The audience composition for women's sports: 53% male and 47% female, with large numbers of those aged 18 to 34.
The presentation comes as ESPN has seen its subscriber universe shrink amid cord-cutting. The flagship network's subscribers are expected to slide to 70.0 million in 2022, down from 85.9 million in 2018, according to data from Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence.