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How does ESPN select the sports that appear in #TheOcho lineup?

Kabaddi, Cornhole and Chess Boxing, among other games, get their "ESPN8" spotlight on Aug. 8 thanks to "jam sessions" and fan feedback

Brent Colborne: “We had a meeting that we call a ‘jam session’ where a group of roughly 25 people got together to throw out programming ideas for The Ocho.” (Brent Colborne/ESPN)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Brent Colborne is the senior director of programming and scheduling who worked closely with associate manager Michelle McDonnell to bring The Ocho to life. Front Row asked Colborne to provide some insight into the planning process. Learn more about The Ocho’s return Aug. 8, all day long on ESPN2.

What sparked last year’s inaugural edition of ESPN8 “The Ocho”?
The idea had actually been out there for years. We started with ESPNU last year knowing that we had a clear schedule to work with. Most of what made the cut ended up being programming we already had the rights to and then we were able to go out and acquire a few new things as well. In the first year, we wanted to try it out to see if it would work and thankfully it did.

The response ended up being extremely positive and far larger than we imagined. We knew it would create a lot of noise and make some waves. However, we never imagined it would be one of the most viewed press releases or a Twitter moment, as it was. I think that’s when we realized we were really on to something special and had to step up our game. Fast forward to this year, we knew we wanted to make it an even bigger, company-wide, initiative.

What is the timeline for a project like this especially with the task of keeping an entire day on ESPN2 clear?
We knew almost immediately after last year’s event that it was something that we wanted to explore again for this year but it was probably about 6-8 months ago that we started planning in earnest. That is when we started analyzing if ESPN2 was a viable option, taking it all the way to Burke Magnus, Executive Vice President of Programming and Acquisitions, who gave us his full support.

What is the process for acquiring rights to these type of sporting events, especially given their non-traditional nature?
We had a meeting that we call a “jam session” where a group of roughly 25 people got together to throw out programming ideas for The Ocho. We just put it all out there on the table. That was the start of it. What should we try to go after? Light Saber was definitely on there. From there, it was really a grassroots type effort.

We found a lot of what we were looking for through resources like YouTube. From there it was just a lot of cold calling and cold emailing. It isn’t our normal sports categories or our normal channels. We were all a little out of our element. It was everyone pitching in and getting their hands dirty.

What is the future of The Ocho?
One of the benefits of having an event like this is that inevitably a star is born. Take Cornhole for instance. That was something we included last year and worked with a great organizer. Now you see it all over ESPN. We sort of built this elevated interest in the sport hand in hand with the organizers and it’s working.

What is next? Could it be dodgeball? Could it be one of the other sports on the schedule for this year? I think that is a big part of the future of The Ocho . . . continuing to build on events that may be “seldom-seen” now but may become more visible down the line.

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