Unless you are a hardcore follower of the sports media, the name “Wieden & Kennedy” might not mean much to you as a sports fan. However, you are almost guaranteed to have seen their work numerous times over the years. The company is the ad agency that has worked with ESPN for a number of years and helped to create such iconic ad campaigns as This is SportsCenter.
Well, in a major move in the sports and advertising world, Wieden & Kennedy is trading in ESPN and will now work with Fox Sports moving forward.
Details via Ad Age:
Fox Sports has named Wieden & Kennedy New York, which had been leading the ESPN account since 1995 and was responsible for the “This is Sportscenter” effort, its first creative agency of record. Fox Sports previously worked with Pereira & O’Dell on creative, but not on an agency of record basis. Pereira & O’Dell helped the brand “build the business to where we are now,” said Robert Gottlieb, exec VP-marketing for Fox Sports. He added that several other shops, such as Barton F. Graf and Hungry Man, have previously worked with Fox Sports on projects. 360i’s Vizeum handles media for the network.
Wieden & Kennedy mutually parted with ESPN at the end of 2016, according to a Wieden spokesperson.
“We are excited for our future with Fox Sports. This is an opportunity for real partnership, with a brand whose culture is rich and inspiring,” said Neal Arthur, managing director of Wieden & Kennedy New York, in a statement. He added in the statement: “ESPN was a defining client for Wieden & Kennedy New York, and our entire network. We wish them the best.”
Mr. Gottlieb said Fox Sports is investing more in creative than it has in the past to “drive the brand and vision of where the brand is going.”
Given Wieden & Kennedy’s success with ESPN and the relative lack of memorable Fox Sports ads, this is a big, big deal for the network. FS1 has splashed a lot of cash on hot takers over the last 18 months, but it still hasn’t built a real nationwide brand beyond “that place that has Skip Bayless now and is trying really hard to be the Fox News of sports” or “the place with ALL THE HOT TAKES.”
Think about it, can you remember a Fox Sports or FS1 ad that was memorable? For the right reasons? You might remember this bizarre spot with Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery commentating in the delivery room, though.
Or this spot that featured cats and girls mud wrestling?
Compare that to ESPN, who have been creating brilliant ad spots for years, specifically with their This is SportsCenter ad campaign, which has been heralded as one of the best and most meaningful of all-time.
I hope I’m not the only one having a hard time seeing Bayless, Cowherd, Travis, or Whitlock playing that Charley Steiner role.
In Those Guys Have All The Fun, Jim Miller recounts how Wieden & Kennedy created the This is SportsCenter ad campaign after visiting Bristol and seeing how much fun a sports fan would have there.
Given FS1 is building a network on a foundation of antagonistic sports debate, one has a hard time envisioning how Fox can pull off the same vibe. FS1 tried going with “The One for Fun” label (that would seem to be a great fit for a bold new ad campaign) but that wore out as soon as the network got rid of much of its original lineup and began trying to remake itself as a worse version of ESPN’s Embrace Debate.
The challenge is going to be to try to build a likable brand that can resonate nationwide, something FS1 still really hasn’t done yet, out of what the network has now become. Fox clearly has the right company with the right track record to try to pull it off, but it will still be a significant challenge.