Behind The Scenes

ICYMI: The Week on Front Row

(L-R) Charissa Thompson, Barry Sanders, Adrian Peterson and Marcellus Wiley during the Madden Cover Reveal SportsNation episode in Times Square. (Rich Arden / ESPN Images)
(L-R) Charissa Thompson, Barry Sanders, Adrian Peterson and Marcellus Wiley during “The Madden Cover Reveal” SportsNation episode in Times Square. (Rich Arden/ESPN Images)

NEW YORK — The anticipation leading up to the announcement of this year’s Madden NFL 25 Cover Vote winner came to a close Wednesday as fans voted for Detroit Lions Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders to grace the cover of the 25th anniversary edition of Madden NFL.

The announcement came during a special primetime showing of SportsNation on ESPN2, live from the Hard Rock Café. The “old school” favorite Sanders beat out “new school” contender and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson with 58 percent of the record-breaking final tally of 40 million votes.

The fan vote tally on more than doubled the 2012 total. Front Row spoke to the SportsNation team about this year’s campaign:

Did the 40 million total votes meet or exceed your expectations?
Zach Benabid, Associate Editor, Year 1, we did 13 million. Year 2, we did 20 million. When our bosses asked us for our expectations this year, 27 million sounded about right, with the stretch goal of 30 million. We surpassed expectations with the final 40 million total votes, although maybe we’re just poor forecasters.

This campaign traditionally has been very social media heavy. What was your social strategy this year?
Gabe Goodwin, Coordinating Producer, SportsNation: This year’s strategy was more about creating TV-worthy social content, and that started with using our social platforms to engage athletes and newsmakers. Nearly every candidate and team participated in some way, plus a handful of teammates and celebrities, and this made it easy for TV to put Tweets and posts on-air. In the past week alone, superstars like Tiger Woods, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander tweeted in support for our eventual winner, Barry Sanders. Seeing Barry’s face when the [ESPN production] truck aired Tiger Woods’ tweet made for quality TV that we’d prefer to any number of [Facebook] “likes” or “RTs” [Twitter Retweets].

Have you talked about next year and how to make this campaign bigger and better?
Michael Bucklin, Senior Manager, Social Media Integration: We were with EA talking about next year’s plan within an hour of crowning this year’s champ. Just about every sentence started with: “This may sound crazy, but…” The trick will probably be maintaining the simplicity of the Madden cover debate while adding new themes, like this year’s “Old School versus New School,” and new features, like this year’s new mobile experience and live Twitter voting.

–by Kristie Chong-Adler

ICYMI: Highlights from the past week on Front Row

• Award-winning writer and Emmy recipient Robert Lipsyte has been appointed as ESPN’s fifth ombudsman. Lipsyte will begin his 18-month term in June, offering independent examination, critique and analysis of ESPN. The role will include written pieces on, on-line chats and other multi-media interactions with fans.

ESPN The Magazine Senior Writer Ryan McGee discussed his profile of former BYU defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah for the NFL Draft Issue. McGee chose to tell Ansah’s story using an “oral history” format instead of a traditional narrative.

• ESPN’s award-winning news magazine E:60 made its Spring 2013 premiere this week with an NFL Draft Special. The features included an E:60 exclusive report on the Auburn football program; a profile of Alabama running back and prime draft prospect Eddie Lacy; an exclusive television presentation of the 30 for 30 short film The Irrelevant Giant; and a compilation of NFL stars’ draft day memories.

• Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw and his blazing pencils are featured in the latest This Is SportsCenter spot with anchor Jay Harris, who gives his take on the latest of his many This is SportsCenter appearances.

Row of Four
Our favorites from across ESPN over the past week

Mike Greenberg shares his thoughts on some of the special experiences from the tour for his new book.

• From Grantland by Brian Phillips: A look inside the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

•’s Liz Merrill talks about the motivation for players to be invited to the NFL Draft green room.

• Enjoy an array of photos in this gallery from ESPN Images.

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