ESPN2 is throwing a nine-week-long Friday night Block Party this summer and fashion, film and music advertisers looking to target the hip young urban audience are welcome to attend.
Block Party is the promotable umbrella title for a weekly four-hour programming block that will mix new and established programming, including the Streetball reality competition and the Friday Night Fights franchise, currently sponsored by Miller Beer, with new Block Party sets, a Block Party host still to be determined, and vignettes and other original programming produced for the block by the ESPN Original Entertainment programming unit.
The idea behind Block Party is to lure African American and Hispanic scene-makers and other 12- to 24-year-old male urban hipsters to the network, giving them something to tune in to before they head out to party late on summer Friday nights.
“We’re going to really go after this whole notion of summertime,” said Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN/ABC Sports Customer Marketing and Sales. “We are starting to talk to people in the music business, people in the fashion business, people in the entertainment business, who are all very interested in the connection of fashion, music, entertainment and, of course, sports,” Mr. Erhardt said.
The Block Party concept is “getting us in to talk to advertisers who may or may not be traditional sports advertisers. I mean, we are talking to record labels about doing advertising on ESPN to promote music-that’s a whole new category for us. … And to be talking to the hip-hop fashion guys-that’s not necessarily a place that ESPN has focused on.” One fashionable advertiser who expects to be wooed for Block Party allowed that boxing was gaining a newly hip aura, which basketball has always enjoyed, and that the ESPN programming initiative was a good idea, but added that he was wary of what he called “media tokenism.”
For ESPN, establishing its presence in the urban world is as natural as doing the NBA deal. “The layperson out there doesn’t understand how important sports are to young people, and how important this urban market is to ESPN in terms of developing that for the future,” said Artie Bulgrin, senior VP, research and sales development, ESPN, who made the point that young African Americans and Hispanics were disproportionately represented in the research category he called “super fans”-young people who describe themselves as 10s on a 1-to-10 scale of fan avidity.
In fact, young African Americans and Hispanics represent “more than half of all the super fans in this country within that 12 to 24 age group,” he said. “That’s why it was important for us to have the NBA to kind of shore up our urban presence, particularly in periods like first and second quarter. … This is very similar in terms of our strategy.” The Block Party initiative goes from June 20 to Aug. 22, skipping only Independence Day, when the Block block makes way for Major League Baseball. Programming runs 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., beginning with Streetball, which will be preceded by an intro on the Block Party set, with the yet-to-be-named host’s running down the night’s programming and venues. The host will be back at breaks and between programs to set the party mood throughout the night.
The 7:30-to-9 p.m. window will feature what the network calls “composite programming that will be very fluid” and is expected to include segments from The Life, ESPN’s reality series that looks at the off-court and off-field doings of big-name athletes, and other segments produced in conjunction with Major League Baseball and the National Football League as well as EOE-produced wraps and interviews with sports and entertainment figures and remotes from Harlem playground pickup B-ball games and urban-oriented events elsewhere around the country. Eventually, a new EOE-produced original series might be part of this half of the block.
The latter half of the block will be Friday Night Fights, and its sponsor, Miller, is in talks with ESPN to expand its presence from the Fights to the larger Party, according to a network executive. Fights, which includes both live bouts and classic rumbles from the ESPN fight library, is ESPN2’s highest-rated regular series. Block Party also will offer advertisers “integrated opportunities,” with components that include ESPN.com, ESPN the Magazine, ABC Urban Advantage radio networks and in-program product placements.