ESPN Plans Summer Film Offensive

May 16, 2005  •  Post A Comment

ESPN’s lineup of product placements in upcoming summer movies is the most extensive list of cinema partnerships in the network’s history.

Moviegoers will see tie-ins such as ESPN2 televising the climactic game in the remake of the football film “The Longest Yard,” a “SportsCenter” scene in Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” and Lindsay Lohan playing an ESPN production assistant in “Herbie: Fully Loaded.”

Despite the exposure, ESPN insists the cross-promotions are the natural result of its sports coverage dominance rather than part of a Hollywood branding campaign.

“We get approached by studios on an ongoing basis if the movie has a sports theme and it helps the authenticity to have ESPN involved,” said Ron Semiao, senior VP of ESPN Original Entertainment. “There’s no monetary exchange; nobody pays anybody.”

The network also will appear in other feature films, including “The Fantastic Four,” “Ghost Rider,” “Akeelah and the Bee,” “Dreamer” and the remake of “Bad News Bears.”

Several of the films are produced by ESPN parent company The Walt Disney Co., which Mr. Semiao admits enjoys preferential treatment. “It’s probably disingenuous to say we don’t give special consideration to Disney,” he said.

Hollywood frequently taps cable networks for media roles in films, but there can be too much of a good thing. In the late 1990s CNN’s willingness to allow its reporters and brand to appear in a slew of movies-such as “Contact,” “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” “Face/Off” and “Independence Day”-generated a backlash among critics, who accused the network of blurring the line between news and entertainment.

The standards of journalistic integrity weigh more heavily on a news network than on a sports channel, however, and Mr. Semiao said overexposure is not a concern.

“If somebody wants to have a sports broadcaster in their film, it should be ESPN,” he said. “We don’t look at it as overexposure. We look at if the format and standpoint is right for the brand. If maybe the [tie-ins] are a little more frequent, it’s because movies with a sports theme have become more frequent.”

This summer ESPN is gearing up for its annual “World Series of Poker” coverage. The coverage will rise to 32 hours, up from 22 hours in 2004 and seven in 2003. Episodes will be paired with reruns of the network’s poker drama “Tilt.”

“Tilt” was considered a disappointment for the network, averaging 500,000 viewers during its run. Mr. Semiao said the decision to renew the series will depend on how well it performs when paired with “WSOP.” Though announced as a dramatic series with a nine-episode run, Mr. Semiao said “Tilt” was never intended to be a recurring series.