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As Broadband Launch Looms, ESPN Touts TV and More in Ad Effort

The Worldwide Leader in Sports wants to make sure people know that famous slogan doesn’t apply only to TV.

With just weeks to go before ESPN is expected to launch a new streaming sports-media outlet, the network known for “Monday Night Football” and “SportsCenter” is telling advertisers to think of it as “ESPN The Platform,” not just another cable network.

“When people go to view content, they don’t think, ‘I’m going to have a television experience,’ or ‘I’m going to have a digital experience,’” says Patricia Betron. ESPN’s senior vice president of multimedia sales.  “They say, ‘I’m going to see highlights’ or ‘I’m going to check the score.’”

The Walt Disney-backed sports giant is this week launching an ad campaign that talks up its reach among consumers as well as the way its content crosses media venues. “Need a 6th man for your brand?” asks one print ad in the series. “Double-digital ratings growth for NBA on ESPN across key demos.” The ads are slated to begin appearing Monday in Cynopsis, AdWeek, Ad Age, The Wall Street Journal and Television Week, and will run through the 23rd of the month.

They appear as advertisers are starting to focus more intently on the industry’s annual “upfront” sales session, when U.S. media companies try to sell the bulk of their inventory related to TV programming ahead of the next season. But they also surface before the anticipated Spring launch of “ESPN Plus,”a $4.99-per-month broadband service that is supposed to offer live-sports coverage not available via traditional ESPN outlets.

The campaign subtly makes the point that “ESPN is a place where you can cume large audiences in a live environment,” says Betron.

Marketing aficionados will have noticed that this is not the first time ESPN has tried to position itself as being of better quality than many digital upstarts.

In May, ESPN used a trade campaign to position itself as a safer environment than that provided by newer digital outlets, at a time when YouTube and other new-era outlets were coming under intense scrutiny for featuring unsavory content. In 2016, ESPN ran ads suggesting that new-tech activities like binge-watching or social-media scanning could be done at any time a consumer wants, while live sports, ESPN’s stock in trade, remains perishable.

To be certain, ESPN isn’t ignoring the part of its business that still brings in the most cash. “Mind a little touchdown dance?” asks one new ad. “Monday Night Football won amongst ALL networks and ALL key male and adult demos.” Part of the ESPN “Platform” obviously includes TV.

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