Arts & Letters Will Revive ESPN’s ‘This Is SportsCenter’ Ads – IGWIIKI


One of advertising’s most prolific campaigns is getting a new jolt of life after going dormant for several years.

ESPN is resuscitating its iconic “This Is SportsCenter” campaign with the help of its new lead creative partner, Richmond, VA.-based Arts & Letters. Wieden+Kennedy produced the bulk of the 400-odd ads that began airing in the mid-1990s, but ESPN brought the campaign in-house in 2017 and discontinued it shortly afterward. The campaign will return soon, likely making a splash during the College Football Playoffs in the beginning of 2023. Arts & Letters, which has worked on campaigns across a number of ESPN’s various verticals since 2019, including its brand platform “There’s No Place Like Sports,” will develop the new iterations of the campaign.

“With this new SportsCenter campaign coming into the fold and being awarded to Arts & Letters, it’s just an opportunity to really solidify the messaging and the relationship,” said Laura Gentile, evp, ESPN marketing and commercial marketing, adding, “It brings back a campaign everybody knows and loves and is core to who we are as an entity.”

Despite the multiyear layoff between spots, the newest editions will “stay as true to the concept as possible,” Gentile told Adweek. “We feel like it’s one of those timeless amazing ideas and it’s our job to uphold the magnificence of the idea and execute it in 2023.”

Previously, “This Is SportsCenter” served as the de facto brand platform for ESPN, Charles Hodges, the founder and ecd of Arts & Letters told Adweek. But with “There’s No Place Like Sports” filling that role now, the SportsCenter campaign can highlight ESPN as the center of the sports universe through levity, said Hodges, who worked on the campaign while working for W+K as a copywriter.

In addition to the “This Is SportsCenter” campaign, the indie agency works on the NFL on ESPN, NBA on ESPN, College Football on ESPN, espnW and the ESPN brand. Some of the agency’s biggest hits for ESPN have come in the form of stunts like the victory goggles for the NBA championship and a “postseasoning” spice for college sports tailgates.

Our campus is more polished, better landscaping, more satellite dishes, better cafeteria but the essence [of the campaign] is the same.

Laura Gentile, evp, ESPN marketing and commercial marketing

Building brand love

To get TV viewers to consume more of ESPN’s content on linear TV, online or social media, where the network has a robust presence on Snap and TikTok, data shows ESPN must foster more love for the brand itself.

“If you love us, you spend twice the amount of time with us, and so, we’re building that emotional connection,” Gentile said. ESPN’s goal is to always be top of mind for sports fans, making fans think of ESPN when they go to their phone for that latest piece of news, trade rumor or fantasy sports, Gentile told Adweek.

The campaign will attempt to appeal to all segments of sports fans, like helping the 30-something cord-cutter who fondly remembers the campaign reaffirm their relationship with ESPN to making boys and girls already familiar with the campaign become loyal ESPN viewers. Gentile added that ESPN has an advantage that most of its competitors, which include anything from other sports networks to the leagues and teams themselves, don’t.

“ESPN is something you could relate to you … feel like is a sports fan sitting alongside of you cheering,” Gentile said. “[Others] haven’t built that foundation, where they can really be that humane, personable and connected to their constituents and their consumers.”

Hodges and Gentile highlight “Y2K” as one of their favorite ads from the campaign.

Inside the writers’ room

With hundreds of iterations of the campaign, “the creative development cycle for this campaign is a living breathing thing,” Hodges said, pointing out that anyone can have a different perspective on what would connect and resonate with fans. That leads to briefs on athletes, anchors or more general culturally relevant ideas.

In the end, it’s often about volume and fine-tuning the best ideas.

“It’s been our approach to really just make a lot of stuff, have a conversation about it, and then start to shape that script packet together,” Hodges said.

And sometimes that volume and collaboration pays off with a viral hit. Hodges said one of the most absurd ideas greenlit during his W+K days became one of the most memorable ads in the campaign—NFL reporter John Clayton’s appearance in an ad that shows off a ponytail and his love for the band Slayer.

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