The ripple effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is vast in ways we haven’t even begun to comprehend. In the world of sports, it’d led to mass cancellations of games and seasons that sent media companies like ESPN scrambling. Not only did they have to rethink their entire broadcasting strategy on a dime but they had to account for the millions in advertising revenue that had been booked or requested.
The ripples ended up causing ESPN to push up the release of The Last Dance, the 10-part documentary series on Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls that premieres Sunday night on ESPN (or while ESPN2 will have a censored version). Given the dearth of fresh sports programming and the pent-up excitement by audiences, many are wondering if this will end up being ESPN’s most-watched documentary series of all time. It’s also a foregone conclusion that social media is going to be enraptured by the series as it goes.
And with all of that hype and excitement comes the opportunity to sell some very valuable advertising real estate around it. Plus, when you consider the staggering loss in viewership that ESPN has been seeing in recent weeks, they’re likely banking on The Last Dance being as profitable and impactful as possible.
ESPN released their marketing and advertising efforts tied up around The Last Dance and noted that only four advertising partners are going to reap the potential benefits of this series and its plugged-in audience. State Farm, Hershey-brand Reese’s, Facebook, and a yet-to-be-named pharmaceutical sponsor are the only four presenting sponsors of the entire series.
In other words, if you were already annoyed by the amount of State Farm ads you watched this past NFL season, you will find no reprieve here.
While ESPN didn’t disclose the financial numbers, they did note that these are obviously going to be more than just regular commercial offers. You can also expect to see in-show integration such as Facebook-branded pop-ups that deliver “surprising and impressive stats on the Bulls dynasty and the NBA in the 1990s.” They also mentioned that State Farm will be sponsoring “The Vault,” which includes archival ESPN content related to the series, and Reese’s is sponsoring an in-show feature called “Remember When,” which includes stories from the Bulls’ championship runs in the 1990s.
ESPN will also be creating exclusive Facebook and Instagram programming, including pre- and post-show Facebook Live broadcasts hosted by Cassidy Hubbarth and Sarah Spain and an Instagram Live pre-show on the SportsCenter account. Meanwhile, State Farm is presenting “Jalen & Jacoby: The After Show,” a live show with Jalen Rose and David Jacoby that will stream across various social media channels including Facebook and the ESPN App after each episode.