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Teamwork Makes Rivalries Work: ESPN’s Collective Effort in Making the NBA’s First-Ever “Rivals Week” a Success

Learn how ESPN's programming and marketing teams approached the concept, which culminates in a monumental tripleheader Saturday on ABC

NBA Rivals Week features a galaxy of stars on ESPN and ABC.

This week marked a first for the NBA as it embarked on a new endeavor: NBA Rivals Week.

The concept highlights both classic and budding NBA rivalries with a week of marquee matchups. ESPN, for its part, televised a doubleheader on Wednesday with two separate nail-biters as the Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Brooklyn Nets, 137-133, nearly a year after the James Harden-Ben Simmons trade. A thrilling Western Conference Semifinals rematch followed as the defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors escaped the Memphis Grizzlies, 122-120.

Saturday hopes to bring the same level of action-packed, drama-filled basketball in the first-ever, non-Christmas Day tripleheader on ABC. NBA Rivals Week culminates with the most storied rivalry in the NBA as the Los Angeles Lakers visit the Boston Celtics at 8:30 p.m. ET.

ESPN’s programming team was tasked with selecting the most enticing matchups, while the marketing team organized a targeted strategy emphasizing the high-stakes, engaging storylines of these rivalry games.

Ashley O’Connor, Senior Director, Programming & Acquisitions, spoke about procuring the matchups for ESPN and ABC.

“When working with the league to craft this year’s schedule, there was one iconic rivalry that was a no-brainer – Lakers-Celtics, which will be our ABC Primetime game on Saturday,” said O’Connor. “Building around that, an epic battle for New York with crosstown rivals [New York] Knicks and [Brooklyn] Nets [at 5:30 p.m.] and to round out our ABC tripleheader showcasing possibly the best bigs in the league with [Denver Nuggets center Nikola] Jokić versus [Philadelphia 76ers center Joel] Embiid [at 3 p.m.].”

Lucas Ferraro, Senior Director, Sports Marketing, detailed the goals of curating ESPN’s NBA Rivals Week strategy.
“For the first-ever NBA Rivals Week, our goal was to raise awareness of and elevate these incredible storylines by wielding the full power of the ESPN Marketing machine,” said Ferraro. “In doing so, we’ll be reaching millions of fans across all of our media touchpoints – linear, digital, social, audio, and more.”

“We are working closely with the ESPN Social team to create engaging graphics that elevate these rivalries and foster conversation and excitement about the week at large.

“From a linear perspective, we focused on the premier tripleheader on ABC, given the stardom and rivalry storylines. Additionally, we created a dedicated spot for Lakers versus Celtics given their storied history, as well as to focus on LeBron’s [James, Los Angeles Lakers forward] chase to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer – The King’s Quest.”

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