EDITOR’S NOTE: Earlier this week, President Jimmy Pitaro sent the following note to ESPN employees.
I want to thank all of you for an inspiring, fast-paced and productive first 60 days at ESPN. It’s been a great start and I’m incredibly optimistic about where we’re headed together. While I can do without the weekly cross-country commute (which thankfully ends mid-June once my kids are out of school and we relocate to Connecticut), the positive results we’ve seen, combined with the spirit of collaboration and the energy I’ve felt from all of you, have been more welcome than the Yankees’ recent resurgence. For instance:
The extraordinary, well-coordinated companywide effort has led to early signs of increased audience reach, usage and engagement – an effective start in achieving a critical goal: expanding the relevance of ESPN to a broader array of sports fans.
It’s essential to remember this is not just a one-time project. The ESPN App, which also rolled out to our global audience through our 12 editions, and ESPN+, will both be important elements of our day-to-day business going forward.
• Three recent NFL developments have me very excited about where we are with that important property and partnership.
Amidst unprecedented competition, ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC were the most-watched networks for the NFL Draft. That’s just remarkable and yet another illustration of what happens when we are challenged: we rise to the occasion and over-deliver. It’s been awesome to see firsthand the ESPN machine in motion!
Additionally, our Monday Night Football schedule was widely regarded as being one of our strongest in recent memory and includes 11 of the 12 playoff teams from a season ago. And, once again, our season will end with a wild-card playoff game.
Our presentation of those games will be completely refreshed with a brand new booth featuring future Hall of Famer and former Dallas tight end, Jason Witten, who shined brightly during his retirement press conference with great emotion and storytelling. We will soon be sharing more MNF details.
• Our season-long NBA coverage continues to be an exceptional story for ESPN.
Superlatives abound: NBA on ABC viewership was up 17 percent; NBA Countdown, NBA Sunday Showcase and NBA Saturday Primetime were all up double-digits; ESPN’s NBA viewership was up 4 percent; The Jump’s playoff episodes are up 11 percent; and ESPN and ABC televised 12 of the season’s 15 most-watched NBA games across all networks. Outside the U.S., ratings for live NBA games during the regular season were up in every market in Latin America.
We are looking forward to the continuation of the competitive NBA Playoffs – currently up 7 percent – and our upcoming Conference and NBA Finals telecasts.
As you likely noticed, NBA Countdown is now coming out of our Seaport studio in lower Manhattan, which is also home to our new, daily, morning show Get Up!, and will be a hub of activity with new linear, digital and social shows in addition to podcasts originating from the uniquely versatile, high-tech studios.
• April was a very strong month for SportsCenter as fans consistently turned to our flagship show for news and analysis of everything from college basketball to the Masters to the start of baseball and, of course, the NFL Draft. We celebrated TV ratings successes in a variety of ways, proving the show’s mettle.
And SportsCenter is a true success as a multi-platform brand. Riding the wave of success from “SportsCenter on Snapchat,” the coming weeks will see SportsCenter unveil new iterations within the ESPN App (a condensed, morning edition anchored by Scott Van Pelt) and on Twitter (@SClive for breaking news coverage through video and the Moments experience).
• Those announcements were made this past Wednesday, when ESPN participated in our first-ever NewFront, where we were able to tell our amazing story in the digital and social space to a captive audience of buyers.
Not only are we the No. 1 digital sports property and No. 1 sports app, but fans choose ESPN first and spend more time with ESPN Digital than the second, third and fourth sports properties combined.
Top executives from Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter all spoke on our NewFront stage and expressed a similar sentiment – ESPN delivers compelling and credible content that drives engagement. Those three companies compete vigorously with one another, yet they all joined us that day because they understand the power of ESPN.
Similar to the Upfront (May 15), the NewFront allowed us to talk about all the fantastic content and offerings we create every day at ESPN. The theme for both the NewFront and Upfront presentations this year is ESPN F1RST, emphasizing our leadership position in every medium.
• I also wanted to highlight the very important fact that we’re industry leaders in racial- and gender-hiring practices according to the recently released “Associated Press Sports Editors Racial and Gender Report Card for 2018,” something that should make all of us very proud. Please take a look at the statistics and comments from the study’s author.
• What emerges when you think of all of this is the unparalleled connection we have with sports fans. Quite simply, “Life Needs Sports” and that is the very theme of our new brand campaign launching this week. Through our research over the past year, we know that fans continue to see us as a leading, trusted and credible source, and that sentiment is stronger than ever.
But we can’t rest. We have to be relentless in serving sports fans, anytime, anywhere. How we serve them – especially younger fans – must continue to evolve and “Life Needs Sports” can serve as a rallying cry for our business going forward. The campaign drops Wednesday and signage around campus and outer offices has begun rolling out.
I’ve engaged with so many of you in the Café, in team and individual meetings and through email and I intend to continue doing so, including hosting smaller employee meetings in various locations over the next few months. I’ve been stopped seemingly hundreds of times as I walk the halls of ESPN, and each time it’s invigorating. Thank you all again for making me feel so welcome and for the support and creative ideas you’ve shared. Keep them coming! Our continued success will be driven by our ongoing, collective efforts each day.
In challenging yet exhilarating times, much is expected of all of us. But, as Sunday Night Baseball analyst Jessica Mendoza recently said, “Pressure is a privilege.” The privilege we all have is to serve sports fans like no one else. And the privilege I have is to do that with all of you.
Let’s keep our momentum going.