EDITOR’S NOTE: ESPN Events, a division of ESPN, owns and operates as many as 35 collegiate sports events a year – 17 bowl games, 11 basketball events, 3-5 early season football games, and an elite college softball tournament. An extension of ESPN’s college sports programming group, ESPN Events was born from the ESPN Regional business that was acquired in 1994 (then Creative Sports, Inc.) and previously managed multiple layers of rights, including syndication, collegiate representation, and events.
ESPN Events Vice President Clint Overby, who leads the team, discusses the busy stretch of upcoming tournaments and other special events with the college basketball season tipping off this week and the college football bowl season just around the corner.
In a given year, our ESPN Events team will execute over 100 individual games representing more than 400 programming hours across ESPN platforms. In addition, we work with 100-plus collegiate institutions each year across a range of conferences and divisions, including all 10 FBS-level conferences, mid-major leagues, and the MEAC and SWAC.
From Labor Day to New Year’s, it is a full sprint as we activate a majority of the business, and things really kick into high gear now that we are in November as sports seasons start to overlap and our staff is deployed to different parts of the country.
This time of year is particularly exciting as basketball teams take the court for the first time and experience tournament-style play that will help them build their resumes for the postseason. This year, we are thrilled to bring back the Phil Knight events – PKI and Phil Knight Legacy (Nov. 24-27) – in Portland, Ore., as well as Friday’s Peraton Armed Forces Classic (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in San Diego. Both events have been on hold since before the pandemic, so bringing them back represents an opportunity to see our business operate at full capacity.
We are one week away from the @espn Armed Forces Classic—Carrier Edition where @ZagMBB will take on @MSU_Basketball aboard the aircraft carrier @CVN_72 on #VeteransDay, Nov. 11. https://t.co/EowveeLdfd
— flynavy (@flynavy) November 4, 2022
A significant amount of preparation and logistical planning has gone into the Armed Forces Classic. In collaboration with ESPN’s basketball production team, we have worked with the teams (Gonzaga and Michigan State), vendors, military (US Navy), and more to bring together all the moving parts to create a signature event.
Beyond the logistics, there are added challenges – notably tracking weather conditions that can impact the playing surface and team safety – which is a key priority. Our goal is to create a Veterans Day event that honors and highlights the men and women in uniform and their tremendous service to our country.
During Feast Week, the return of the Phil Knight events is also another significant milestone. In 2017, this special event felt like a mini-NCAA Tournament. We had a phenomenal field. The games were great, and so were the venues. This year, in collaboration with the Portland Trailblazers, we have more Championship-level programs competing, and we are thrilled to add eight high-level women’s teams (four per bracket), as well as an additional venue to expand the format as we honor Nike founder Phil Knight and his legacy while showcasing the sport at its highest level.
A combined 11 preseason @AP_Top25 ranked teams – 6 men's & 5 women's – will compete in stacked fields at this year's PKI & Phil Knight Legacy college basketball events
— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) October 18, 2022
Even though last year was intended to be a “return-to-normal,” we still felt the impact of Covid around the college football postseason. Among our events, the Wasabi Fenway Bowl and Easypost Hawaii Bowl were postponed due to last-minute Covid issues with participating teams.
The situation was especially challenging in Hawaii, with one team already being on-site and the expense of bringing their equipment, teams, and fans to the island. We have great partners, so we were able to work it out, but these circumstances forced us to relaunch the entirety of our business in Hawaii to give participating teams the confidence that their event won’t be cancelled at the last minute.
Our ESPN Events team takes great pride in building projects from the ground up and creating value for the company. In recent years, we have expanded into new sport categories, establishing the Clearwater Elite Softball tournament as one of the premier events in women’s softball. We have enhanced our commitment to Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) with the creation of the Boeing Red Tails Classic and increasing The Walt Disney Co. presence at the Cricket Celebration Bowl. In the months and years ahead, we are excited to continue to seek even more opportunities to expand our portfolio of collegiate sports initiatives.
Most importantly, I want to highlight our people. I am proud of our team and its ongoing efforts to sustain and grow our business. Unfortunately, their work takes them away from their friends and families during holidays and weekends. However, their dedication, care, and understanding of our stakeholder needs ultimately ensure the success of our events division.
ESPN Events is based in Charlotte, North Carolina with additional satellite offices in Atlanta, Albuquerque, N.M., Birmingham, Ala., Boca Raton, Fla., Boise, Idaho, Fort Worth, Texas, Las Vegas and Tampa.