What do you for television sports content in the dog days of summer, especially if you don’t have Olympic rights? ESPN’s trying something quite new: a 28-hour fantasy football marathon across their TV, radio and digital properties. Here are some details from their release:
ESPN will televise the 28-hour Draft Kings Fantasy Football Marathon in preparation for the 2016 NFL season on Aug. 15-16. The first-time programming initiative – starting Monday, Aug. 15 at 7 p.m. ET through Tuesday, Aug. 16 at 11 p.m. – will feature Fantasy Football specials in primetime both nights, segments on multiple editions of SportsCenter, and Fantasy Football-themed editions of popular ESPN shows, including First Take, Mike & Mike, His & Hers, SportsNation and NFL Live. All programs during the marathon will be streamed live on WatchESPN.
Senior Fantasy Sports Analyst Matthew Berry and NFL Insider Adam Schefter will appear on ESPN shows throughout the entire 28 hours. Michelle Beadle and Trey Wingo will co-host the primetime shows on both nights – the five-hour SportsCenter Special: Fantasy Football Rankings (Aug. 15: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2) and the marathon-ending four-hour SportsCenter Special: Fantasy Football Celebrity Mock Draft (Aug. 16: 7 p.m., ESPN), which will include a live Fantasy Football draft with ESPN commentators and celebrities. Kenny Mayne will also be part of the primetime shows and other programs, sharing his football insights and his unique humor and wit.
There’s a lot more going on in this one, though. There will be a corresponding radio marathon, there’s a “celebrity draft” including everyone from Mike and Mike to Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson to Darius Rucker and Bobby Flay, there will be in-house DJ performances, and there will there will be radio and TV updates from Mike Golic Jr. and Stugotz on “Fantasy Island.” That last one deserves a little more discussion, and it helps explain part of why ESPN is doing this; they’re really trying to promote their fantasy football product, and they’re targeting one million teams for it by the end of the second day. “Golic and Stugotz will track this with telethon-style updates and a digital tote board.” Key ESPN executive Norby Williamson’s comments on this also mention the importance of the app:
“Fantasy Football is so enormously popular and with fans everywhere now joining leagues and drafting teams we will officially kick off the new season across ESPN platforms with this 28-hour marathon,” said Norby Williamson, ESPN Executive Vice President, Production. “This is among our most creative and collaborative ideas to date. We will utilize resources across our many television and radio shows, ESPN Stats & Information, ESPN Fantasy Sports, ESPN Social and more, while showcasing the ESPN Fantasy App, to make this a big, fun event for fans.”
While that kind of cross-platform synergy and promotion makes a lot of sense (and is something ESPN should do more on a variety of fronts), this is still a pretty bold experiment for the network, as fantasy football coverage hasn’t really produced massive ratings on TV to date. Having one show that the fantasy audience can seek out (Fantasy Football Now) is one thing, but delivering 28 straight hours of fantasy content across the width of ESPN’s platforms is something altogether different. They’re gambling that there’s a big audience out there that wants a lot of televised fantasy football content, or at least will tune in for some of it, and they’re also gambling that they won’t alienate too many viewers who aren’t into fantasy football (or pundits talking about it). Creating an event that can attract DraftKings as a title sponsor probably helps pay the bills here too.
Granted, there will probably be some ESPN platforms airing non-fantasy football content at all times, so this isn’t necessarily doom-and-gloom for viewers who don’t like fantasy. Also, this release only mentions “segments on SportsCenter,” so there will still be some non-fantasy news and highlights on the various editions of that show. Still, this will certainly produce a lot of negative blowback. We’ll see if “you got your fantasy football in my sports television” winds up being a positive combination, or a widespread complaint.