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Mike Greenberg: Fans want to watch ESPN in the morning, not Netflix

As longtime veterans of ESPN, host Mike Greenberg and President of Global Sales & Marketing Ed Erhardt have seen the network shift from a television network to a multiplatform media empire. In this week’s Agents of Change soundbite, the duo discusses how ESPN works with brand marketers across platforms, which demographics are watching Mike Greenberg’s new show ‘Get Up’ each morning, and who Erhardt believes the network competes with for the connected fan’s time and attention.

Read or listen below to learn how ESPN is evolving to the meets the needs of the connected fan’s consumption habits across mind and screen.

Mike Greenberg: I’ve been doing this 30 years, 21 of them at ESPN, and you’ve been at ESPN about that long as well. We’ve seen enormous changes.

There was a time when everything was divided up. There was the television product, there was the radio product (which I was a part of initially), then social came, there was the magazine, and now we’re really producing content that is meant to be consumed everywhere, and the unique thing is our ability to compile all of that, to calculate all of that in a way that really is industry-leading. That has been critically important for us.

Ed Erhardt: It absolutely has. One of the things we made a lot of noise about in the Upfront was there’s a lot of conversation about SportsCenter. How’s it doing? What’s its ratings? And is it all highlights and that kind of stuff?

By taking that particular brand, which is a landmark brand for ESPN, and moving it to, for example, Snapchat…there are 3 million people a day on Snapchat SportsCenter. That’s a huge audience! By the way, 75% of it is under 24. That audience is not necessarily the one that is watching SportsCenter on linear television, but it is increasingly how we’re thinking about it and how the marketplace is thinking about it.

Greenberg: That’s one of the things that I have seen in recent years, is that the world isn’t changing as much as it is evolving. It’s just evolving at a bit of a more rapid rate than we have been accustomed to in our lifetimes and you have to be able to adapt to it.

We are definitely thinking—as we plan a show from the side of it that I come from—about which things are going to work, which can we put out there socially that we think will resonate. You look at the term “snackable” which I think is overused, but is critically important and is one of the things that we do take into consideration.

So with that thought in mind, what would you consider at this point to be ESPN’s competition? How do we view that, and how do we differentiate ourselves from them?

Erhardt: I think we compete with just about everybody. We compete for share of mind and share of screen.

Because of that it’s not necessarily the traditional folks only or the non-traditional (Google, Facebook, YouTube, etc.). We compete across every part of the entertainment marketplace, not just the sports marketplace.

In fact, if we can continue to position ourselves, which I think we have, as being both sports but also entertainment, being digital but also linear, and being an experience, that’s where I think we’re going to win. I think we’re on a very good path for that, and I think about the kind of content…let’s talk about the people you had on the show today. It was a mix. Nick [Foles] and Ice Cube. So that’s an example of bringing in new people…

Greenberg: So far it has been great fun, and I anticipate it will continue to be.

Erhardt: It’s the stuff that we’re most excited about on the business side, and I know you know this Mike, but 30% of the people that are watching the show are totally new to that time period for ESPN—and they’re 10 years younger than what was there before.

So for us, we feel like we’re on the right track. It’s going to take a little while and I think football will help, the NBA helped while we had the NBA, we lost it (relative to the Finals) sooner than we would have liked, as has been documented. But what I think is telling, is that [Get Up] is starting to find an audience and it’s more female, which we like…and morning television, to your point it is a ritual, and to break into that ritual you have to attract a new audience rather than convert people that are watching [something else], and I think that’s what’s happening. We’re attracting a new audience so we’re excited about that.

The morning is a time that you want to be tethered to the planet, and if you’re interested in sports, then ESPN is your first destination

Mike Greenberg, Host of Get Up! on ESPN

Greenberg: Yeah, there’s an expression that I learned when we started “Mike and Mike.” It was just announced we were going into the National Radio Hall of Fame after we were almost canceled our first year. I mean, no one actually talked about canceling us, but the world gave up on us. “This will never work; nationally syndicated sports in the morning will never work.”

But there is an expression in our industry: “letting it bake.” You just had to leave us on. We were just two guys; we had our own chemistry, we had our thing and you have to allow that to become a part of people’s habit.

The morning, as you just touched on and I’ll expand on a little is people’s routine. That’s generally speaking not a time that people will get up and watch something on Netflix. That is a time that you want to be tethered to the planet; you want to know what’s going on, you want to have some connection to what’s happening in the world, and if you are particularly interested in sports, then ESPN is, generally speaking, the first destination.

But it will take a little time for people, who for 40 years have gotten up and seen SportsCenter there, to get used to something new.

It’s not an enormous departure, we’re still doing highlights, we’re still doing stats and scores, we’re still giving you analysis and some opinion and some fun, but it is our own version of it and that’s just going to take a little time for people to become accustomed to.

You’re going to see it like a good stock. You don’t want a stock to rise too fast because on the other side of it is a fall, but it can grow steadily. Mike and Mike did, and I am sure this will.

Which then brings us to the next factor: there’s so much talk about the way people consume television today and obviously with so much of it being on demand, the power more than ever before, of a live sporting event has increased in recent years. I know when I’m watching a game, more than at any other time, if [I’m] on social media and [I’m] interacting with people, [I] feel like the entire world is watching at that moment, and I don’t know that there’s practically anything else in television that works that way.

Erhardt: Well not, where you don’t know the ending and obviously. I think of [our parent company], the Walt Disney Company, whether you’re a Bachelorette or a Bachelor fan, in many cases while that is taped, it is taped to live if you will in terms of the outcomes and things of that element.

What I do believe is starting to happen now is, there is a huge audience of people particularly younger (whether you want to say it’s millennials, Gen Z, whichever marketing phrase you want to use) that watches the game through a wide variety of ways besides just watching the game.

The [only way] they would watch it might be highlights, and the currency of knowing when that is happening, the conversation that goes on… We’ve got a bunch of research now that kind of shows there’s a group in the middle that watches the game then there’s a group that’s before the game and a group that’s after the game. They might dip in and out of the live game based upon what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, where they are in their life. Technology has allowed us to do that.

The opportunity for marketers, advertisers and fans is to figure out where do you appropriately put messaging? Where do you appropriately talk about brands? How do they show up? It’s a lot of what Mike has done, obviously being in radio for a long time, but how do brands show off so they feel like they’re there and they should be there as opposed to their interrupting the conversation?

We’re lucky in sports, we have natural breaks in many cases, but in a sport like football or soccer, there aren’t breaks. You have to figure out other ways to have sports show up whether that be in the background or what talent may or may not say appropriately. That’s the next wave of excitement for us.

We have a live product, we know that it works, and we know that people consume it in lots of different ways. Where do we find the right mix of advertising and commercials so that they feel like they should authentically be there? Because the consumer will not stand for stuff the way they used to. They will not.

Mike Greenberg and Ed Erhardt spoke during SportFronts, a digital content showcase of the leading media companies, publishers, and platforms serving the connected fan. Learn more here.