BRISTOL, Conn. – ESPN hosted more than 25 national media at “ESPN’s Football Media Day” on Friday. Designed to help usher in the college and pro football seasons, reporters from such outlets as The Washington Post, Variety, New York Post, The Big Lead and Awful Announcing were given tours of the Bristol Campus and took part in three separate sessions that included panel discussions and question and answer opportunities.
The morning session featured college football commentators Chris Fowler, Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Holly Rowe and Maria Taylor while an afternoon panel was dedicated to the new Monday Night Football team of Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten, Booger McFarland and Lisa Salters. Both sessions included Senior Vice President, Event & Studio Production Stephanie Druley, who provided an overview of ESPN’s overall football coverage priorities and strengths.
In between, the media were treated to an informal gathering with ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro, who outlined what his first five-plus months at ESPN have been like and gave a glimpse into his vision for the company moving forward.
“One of questions I get most is, ‘What’s it like to work at ESPN?’” Pitaro said. “It has been incredibly energizing. The thing I call out most often is the culture. Energy here is incredibly positive, morale is positive and people are excited to be here. Our culture is indeed vibrant and employees are focused and engaged.”
Pitaro said he and his team have honed in on four key areas of focus that are business drivers for ESPN:
• Direct to Consumer: “As [Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company] Bob Iger said on the earnings call recently, we’re very heartened by the conversion rates we’re seeing on ESPN+ side.”
• Audience Expansion: “We want to be appealing to and attracting a younger audience and we have made great progress in that department. [For example,] esports is not a fad, it’s not going anywhere and we believe it is ascending and in the spirit of speaking to a younger audience – it’s got to be a priority for us.”
• Storytelling: “I’m a huge fan of the content at this company whether it’s 30 for 30, OTL, E:60 – quality is our primary focus and that will not change. Covering sports in an exemplary fashion remains a priority for us and we are committed to our investigative reporting.”
• Innovation: “People typically think about 1s and 0s when it comes to innovation and we take a lot of pride in that, but we think about it across every part of the business. Last night [on MNF preseason game] you saw us use the ‘BoogerMobile’ which we are really excited about.”
With the major theme of the day focusing on football, Pitaro was extremely enthused about ESPN+’s content offerings, especially for college football fans.
“No one covers college football like we do; we’ll have 900 games across various platforms. We show you the biggest games across our linear networks, but we recognize the fact that a fan of Dartmouth football will be just as passionate as a fan of Alabama football,” Pitaro said. “We want to serve every sports fan whether you’re a fan of Dartmouth or Alabama.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Ivy league football is available on ESPN+.
As for the NFL, Pitaro said he is happy with where the league relationship currently stands.
“We have four seasons remaining on our current Monday Night Football deal and we’ve made it very clear to the NFL that this relationship is important to us. The relationship is strong with a solid foundation. We want to be in business with the NFL and I believe they want to be in business with us.”
As the session wound down, Pitaro was asked what he views as the biggest misconception about ESPN.
“Politics. We are not a political organization,” he said. “We are always going to cover the intersection of sports and politics and sports and culture. We are the place of record for sports. We have to be the place of record, and our partners across the industry understand that. Covering sports in an exemplary fashion is our focus and priority.
“I have been very, very clear with employees that it is not our job to cover politics purely. [Get Up! host] Mike Greenberg said it best, ‘I don’t go to McDonald’s to order pizza.’ When people tune into ESPN, they are not looking for political commentary from us, and I’ve made that very clear.”
An interactive session that focused on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Snapchat served as a fun way to punctuate the day.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out @ESPNPR for additional coverage of our unofficial kickoff to the football season.