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ESPN Places Greater Spotlight on Non-Sports Content With New ‘Exit 31’ Unit

ESPN continues to rely most heavily on live sports and the programming that surrounds it, but the Walt Disney-owned sports-media juggernaut is quietly working to broaden its horizons.

ESPN said Monday it would group three smaller projects – the Nate Silver-driven stats-and-news blog FiveThirtyEight”; its ESPN Films; and its Grantland site – into a single unit called “Exit 31” (the number of the exit off Interstate 84 in Connecticut that leads to the media company’s Bristol headquarters). The group is expected to experiment “with subjects, formats, editorial approaches and platforms to create offerings that complement ESPN’s already expansive storytelling in new and different ways,” the company said in a prepared statement. FiveThirtyEight, acquired when ESPN lured Silver from a perch at The New York Times, is expected to appear March 17, now under ESPN’s aegis, in expanded form.

Marie Donoghue, senior vice president, global strategy, business development and business affairs, for ESPN will lead Exit 31. Nate Silver, editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight, Connor Schell, vice president of ESPN Films and original entertainment; David Cho, senior director of strategy and business development for Grantland and FiveThirtyEight and Bill Simmons, editor in chief of Grantland, will all report to her.

“Formally combining these teams will create a collaborative studio environment whose mission will be to take risks and experiment with editorial approach, visual presentation and programming across platforms,” Donoghue said in a prepared statement. ” We hope to continue to bring a variety of creative people into ESPN from varied sources – including non-traditional sports media sources – to cross-pollinate within Exit 31 and across ESPN’s existing and award-winning content divisions.”

Projects initially under Exit 31 include: FiveThirtyEight Films, a collaboration between FiveThirtyEight and ESPN Films that will be a storytelling vehicle to create short and long-form films drawing from the work of FiveThirtyEight and using data analytics as a part of its ethos; Grantland’s in-progress, exclusive series chronicling Steve Nash’s return to the Lakers called “The Finish Line”; ESPN Films’ “30 for 30 Soccer Stories”, and ongoing “30 for 30 Shorts”The recently announced documentary series following the US Men’s Soccer Team leading into the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil called “Inside: U.S. Soccer’s March to Brazil; and a  new Grantland Video Podcast Network.

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