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“They used actual web templates from the era, so it’s about as authentic to 1998 as you can get.”

What inspired ESPN's "House Of '98" celebration of music and culture before the finale of The Last Dance?

This weekend, fans can relive the music and culture of 1998 in a nostalgia-filled immersive virtual ESPN House experience called House of ’98 as they eagerly await the finale of The Last Dance. The Chicago Bulls’ 1990s’ dynasty series concludes with Episodes 9 and 10 airing Sunday, May 17 beginning at 9 ET on ESPN (TV-MA) and ESPN2 (TV-14-L)

Michael Kopech, ESPN’s senior director of sports and experiential marketing, tells Front Row how “House of ’98” all came together.

Where did you come up with the idea for House of ’98? How did it all come together?
The idea for a “virtual” ESPN House came up during a planning session for the “regular” ESPN House last fall. We all loved the idea but wanted to really nail the in-person experience before we moved on to virtual. But with the pandemic, we had to pivot quickly and leaned into creating and building the virtual expression of House. We took the same strategy and objectives and asked the question, “How can we achieve the same sort of impact, but without an in-person experience?” And it went from there.

How did you create the throwback website, where among other things fans can find such 1998 classics like the This Is SportsCenter video above? What was the response from the musicians when you asked them to participate?
The site was a true collaboration between the marketing team, our agency R/GA, and The Undefeated. We originally planned to work with The Undefeated on an ESPN House around the NFL Draft, but when we went back to them on the House of ‘98 idea, they loved the premise and created a bunch of content for it. They really blew it out beyond what we could’ve imagined. To build the site, we engaged with our Grande & Leonard creative team. They did an amazing job taking R/GA’s designs and bringing them to life and made it even better than the original concept. They used actual web templates from the era, so it’s about as authentic to 1998 as you can get.

As for the musical acts, full credit goes to [ESPN Music Director] Kevin Wilson and the ESPN Music team. They’ve been key partners on all things ESPN House from its inception, and when we pivoted to “virtual,” they were right there with us. Through their relationships and hard work, we were able to land some really big acts to engage with us and perform leading into Sunday night’s finale of The Last Dance. And the musicians are fans of ESPN and the docuseries, so they were as excited as we were for them to participate.

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