Spectacle, Storytelling and Brands: ESPN’s College Football Empire

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College football is the breeding ground for some of the fiercest rivalries in sports, but ESPN has created a media environment where even the most spiteful fans come together to observe the spectacle.

Experts in marketing and college football broadcasting joined College Gameday personality Tom Rinaldi and ESPN & SEC Network Reporter Laura Rutledge for a discussion about what makes ESPN such a welcoming place for both fans and brands.

There’s always been something about live sport that lets brands connect with the consumers in a powerful way, according to Rinaldi, who noted that those same brands are major players in making college football so successful. That would explain why marketers like Senior Manager of Media at Samsung Andrea Grasty are so drawn to partnering with ESPN, the dominant leader of college football coverage.

“We want to know what people care about so that we know our way in,” Grasty said.

Brands like Samsung have learned that college football is something people care about greatly, and it allows them to interact with consumers in an intimate way, according to Grasty. She believes that the scale of the audience combines with the digital and experiential aspects of the spectacle to make it a premium investment greater than the sum of its parts.

ESPN, which covers the majority of the college football season, is dedicated to providing marketers the tools they need to make that investment so valuable, according to Senior Vice President of Sports Marketing at ESPN Rob Temple. ESPN acts as middle ground providing the right solutions to college football fans that are frustrated about the innate fragmentation of the college football environment, according to Temple.

The challenge is creating the right conversation for brands to use as a canvas. But those conversations often create themselves. The storylines surrounding the eccentric coaches, explosive young talent and obsessively loyal fans are born organically. ESPN has the privilege of being on the front lines covering those stories.

The do-or-die nature of the college football season contributes to the buzz surrounding the sport as well. Often a single game can ruin an otherwise perfect season for a fan. A game that would be meaningless if the season was set up like the NFL can captivate not just a fan base but the entire sport.

The league itself has made progress to satisfy fans in recent years as well. Before the Bowl Championship Series was replaced by a four-team playoff format called the College Football Playoff, the approval rating of the system among casual fans hovered below 50%, and has since raised to around 80%, according to Temple. On top of that, college football games dominate the list of most-watched cable events in history, according to Rinaldi.

While controversy regarding political and health issues surround professional football, College Football remains a welcoming environment where brands, fans and storytelling can all thrive. As Tom Rinaldi put it:

“We live it. We Love it.”

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