Media PR keeps its eye on the ball

Sports-themed shows are boon to promoting pics

With sports routinely outdrawing other genres on TV, those with shows or films to market are taking notice. And it doesn’t matter whether a production is sports-focused or simply a project that might appeal to fans; the feeling among film and television producers is that sports media can be an essential part of a publicity campaign.

Columbia Pictures actioner “21 Jump Street” has brought in a consultant to ensure that sports media is a part of the PR plan. While the action film doesn’t highlight home runs, touchdowns or goals scored, “Jump Street” thesps Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill or Ice Cube may well end up chatting on sports TV and radio about their reboot of the popular 1980s television series in the runup to the movie’s March 16 release.

“Having talent on either sports radio or sports-themed television programming tends to reach a heavy concentration of males who are 18 and older — along with sports-savvy women,” says Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Steve Elzer, senior VP of media relations. “So if we have a film that targets men — whether it has a sports theme or not — we believe (sports media) is a very important slice of our campaign.”

ESPN shows like “First Take,” “SportsCenter” and “Sports-Nation” consistently attract audiences in key male demographics. “SportsCenter,” for example, has a 75% male audience with a median age in the hard-to-reach 33- to 38-year-old range. Radio sports talkshows regularly welcome movie and TV stars not only to talk sports but also to tubthump their latest projects. Even less obvious outlets like the NFL Network’s “The Rich Eisen Podcast” can be an excellent venue for stars to pitch their work. Eisen’s podcasts, simulcast on TV and the Internet, regularly feature celebs such as Matt Damon and Adam Sandler talking both football and Hollywood, and have exceeded 4 million downloads since April.

Since 1993, Jeff Freedman, founder of praisery FSPR, has worked for nearly every studio in Hollywood as a publicist-for-hire focused on courting sports media coverage. He’s seen movies increase their tracking by as many as eight points when a sports media-specific push goes well.

Freedman, who is working with Columbia on “21 Jump Street,” points to “Moneyball” as an example of a well-executed sports campaign. ESPN had numerous segments devoted to the movie, including ones with star Brad Pitt on “SportsCenter” and the show “Numbers Never Lie.” The MLB Network also did a Bob Costas-hosted special, featuring Pitt and co-star Hill, among others.

The marriage of sports media and a film like “Moneyball,” based on a book that chronicled a change in the way baseball players are valued and which boasts a big name like Pitt, was a no-brainer for outlets like ESPN and the MLB Network.

But Freedman argues that projects without sports-driven plotlines can also benefit from such exposure. A common misconception among some studio execs, according to Freedman, is that the courting of sports fans may pigeonhole a project as simply a movie for rabid armchair jocks.

“Sometimes (studios) feel that sports are confining, which is not the case,” Freedman says. “If Brad Pitt does an interview on the MLB Network, you don’t have to worry that some women are going to be (turned off), because he’s talking about the baseball in ‘Moneyball.’?” The only women who are going to see the interview are women who are baseball fans, he says.

From the sports media side, there is certainly a healthy appetite for Hollywood talent appearing on programming.

“It adds a bit of celebrity sizzle,” says Fox Sports media group president and chief operating officer Eric Shanks. “Overall, it is just another kind of way to broaden sports and make it entertaining.”

Shanks, a producer on the former Fox Sports talker “The Best Damn Sports Show Period,” included stars like Mark Wahlberg, Bradley Cooper and Kid Rock on Fox’s NFL telecasts this past season. Fox Sports Net simulcasts “The Dan Patrick Show,” a radio program that is a popular destination for stars, and Shanks says he would always consider new talk projects that combine Hollywood and athletics.

Eisen, an on-air personality for the NFL Network, books his own guests for his podcast. He has grabbed a long list of film and television talent to discuss sports and their projects, including Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”), Josh Charles (“The Good Wife”) and Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”).

“I love to have relaxed conversations with (people) from various spectrums of pop culture, and the NFL is a major slice of pop culture,” Eisen says. “What better way to have somebody promote their movie, their show or their album than to come on in a relaxed easy environment and show their fans that they are just like them?”

A veritable blitz of Hollywood regulars have descended upon ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., headquarters to take part in what the company calls the Car Wash, where talent from films like “The Hangover Part II” (Justin Bartha), “Grown Ups,” (Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Kevin James) and “Hall Pass” (Peter and Bobby Farrelly) are booked as guests on a laundry list of ESPN shows across TV, radio and online.

“We’re in a world where media is being ever-increasingly fractured,” Freedman says. “Every day, there are more channels, more websites and more radio (options). Sports (platforms) can be most effective if (used) in sync with the overall marketing campaign.”