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6 Things We Learned From ESPN’s Upfront

The name ESPN conjures up images of “Monday Night Football,” “SportsCenter” and reams of stats about your favorite contests. But during an “upfront” presentation to advertisers Tuesday, executives spent a lot more time focused on the intricacies of the business, like ad sales, multi platform distribution and audience measurement.

No one’s eyes glazed over. Execs from the Disney-backed sports media juggernaut were accompanied by Serena Williams, Kelly Rowland and dozens of the network’s on-air personalities, all of whom helped illustrate what those more academic subjects help put into practice. Below are a few more things we learned from ESPN’s showcase.

1. Scott Van Pelt wants to be considered among the set that includes Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel. Van Pelt made a brief appearance during the event and made the point that his viewership among young men between 18 to 34 is competitive – if not more so – than his late night rivals.

2. Serena Williams expects to return to tennis in competitive form. Speaking to ESPN host Mike Greenberg, who will anchor a new ESPN morning show in 2018, Williams said that for now, “I’m just focused on me, and the baby, obviously,” but that she intends to return to the sport and focus on winning some Grand Slams.

3. ESPN has gallows humor. An opening segment featured a New Orleans funeral march, prompting at least one observer to ask if ESPN was making fun of itself, as it has been the subject of much scrutiny in recent months owing to reports of cost controls, layoffs and subscriber declines. ESPN President John Skipper may have added to the mood when, during opening remarks, he said that “ESPN is responding to change.” In fact, the ersatz funeral was meant to be light-hearted and poke fun at the confusing state of advertising these days. Ultimately, ESPN was described as “a place where advertising feels like heaven.”

4. New details on morning radio. ESPN unveiled details about its new morning-drive radio program, which will be hosted by Mike Golic (the other half of “Mike & Mike” and Trey Wingo. The program will launch later this fall and air between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. eastern. It will initially be simulcast on ESPN2 before moving to ESPNU.

5. Kenny Mayne is to ESPN’s upfront what Jimmy Kimmel has been to ABC’s. Mayne has become a routine presence at ESPN’s annual ad showcase, riffing on advertising, products and often God knows what else. Kimmel does much the same thing, using a regular berth at sister Disney outlet ABC to take a few shots at Madison Avenue. On Tuesday, Mayne added a twist. Dressed in an angel’s robe and in wings, he was lowered to the floor, calling himself “The Angel of Advertising.” For the uninitiated, the appearance may have seemed bizarre, but regular ESPN upfront attendees to the whole thing in stride.

6. Peyton Manning will host ESPN’s 25th annual ESPY Awards. The former NFL quarterback will be joined by celebrities from sports and entertainment to commemorate the past year in sports by recognizing major sports achievements. The show will be broadcast live on ABC Wednesday, July 12, at 8 p.m. EDT from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.

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