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“It’s incredibly important to stay connected with fans and be there for them . . .”

ESPN SVP, Marketing, Laura Gentile, provides details behind the latest "There's No Place Like Sports" spot

When live sports were put on pause, the sports world kept moving – and true to its mission, ESPN continued to serve fans every step of the way.

Since launching “There’s No Place Like Sports” in September, the campaign has served as a reminder of the inspirational and unifying power of sports by elevating the incredible human stories that exist – and the important role ESPN plays in telling those stories. In these challenging times, that reminder is needed now more than ever.

Senior Vice President of Marketing, Laura Gentile, shares more behind the latest “There’s No Place Like Sports” spot and ESPN’s overall promotional efforts during this time of uncertainty.

How did the new “There’s No Place Like Sports” spot come about? Were you planning to release a new one or did you pull this together quickly in response to the current times?

The plan was always to release a third spot to our “There’s No Place Like Sports” campaign at the end of March with a theme centered around “hope springs eternal” for sports like The Masters and MLB Opening Day. When live sports came to an abrupt halt, that theme of hope and optimism took on a completely new – and much larger – meaning.

Laura Gentile
(Donna Svennevik/ESPN Images)

From the very beginning, “There’s No Place Like Sports” was purposely designed to be an ever-evolving stage for sports to showcase the timeless themes of human potential and connection. Now more than ever, we want to reminisce about those moments with all fans – and in acknowledging the current times, let them know that we miss it, too.

Can you take us through those first 24 hours with your team after the NBA suspended their season? What adjustments did you need to make to the promotion and marketing lineup?
Like every other team, it was all hands on deck to scramble and adapt. Luckily, we are fortunate to have incredible breadth and depth of content – and the promotional campaigns that support them – and have adjusted accordingly to programming changes. In those first 24-48 hours, we packaged together ongoing campaigns like “There’s No Place Like Sports,” “This is SportsCenter” (historical and current), our work spotlighting our talent, our campaign for “The Last Dance,” and corporate citizenship PSAs, as well as brand spots from across the Disney networks portfolio. We have great relationships with our league partners and continue to monitor the situation closely to adjust accordingly.

What else has your team had to react to in real time?
ESPN has long been the place of record for fans seeking the latest sports news and information – and we’ve been all over it, every minute of the day. We wanted to highlight that spirit through new work called “The Source” to showcase the efforts of our incredible talent and employees working through these challenging times to continue our mission of serving fans.

In the absence of live sports, The Ocho – always a fan favorite – was also resurfaced and programmed in part because fans were asking for it and posting about it on social media. Since we have brought back The Ocho once a year for the past few years, we were able to pull together a promotional spot from that campaign to get fans excited about it. We declared “Just when you needed it most…The Ocho!”

And with an incredible archive of documentaries from ESPN Films and 30 for 30, we’ve been able to promote from past campaigns the re-airing of our Academy Award-winning film “O.J.: Made in America” as well as other critically acclaimed titles.

How has ESPN resonated in the marketplace in reacting to the current times?
Substance, heart and humor are at the core of ESPN’s brand, and in difficult times like these, we want to be a place where fans can come for a bit of an escape.

We’re seeing success in delivering that kind of positive brand sentiment and buzz lift through our efforts around #SeniorNight, The Ocho, and “The Source.” The entirety of ESPN has worked tirelessly and collaboratively throughout this difficult situation and it’s been an absolute pleasure to do our part and play a key role communicating with our fans.

How important is Marketing during a time like this?
It’s incredibly important to stay connected with fans and be there for them, not just through the highs, but also the lows. We’re all in this together, and our goal on the Marketing side is to reach out and maintain that relationship with fans. We miss sports as much as they do. We’re right alongside them trying to weather this storm. ESPN always demonstrates resilience in difficult times and our work serves as reminder to the sports community that we’re here for them – and will always be there – especially when live sports return! There’s No Place Like Sports and There’s No PLACE like ESPN.

Read more about ESPN Marketing’s approach in today’s Wall Street Journal.

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