ESPN, Inc.: 2017 in Review – Leadership through Innovation

AnnouncementsYear in Review

ESPN, Inc.: 2017 in Review – Leadership through Innovation

In 2017, ESPN strategically strengthened its position as the clear No. 1 in sports media, unparalleled in scope, consumption and brand strength.  With the leading portfolio of marquee sports rights, ESPN’s innovative forward thinking was in evidence in many ways throughout the year – its first Academy Award, rising ratings in prime time, leading the industry to evolutionary measurement practices and expanding digital offerings, notably ESPN+ coming in 2018.

“No other media company could win an Oscar, Emmy and the National Magazine Award for General Excellence in a single year,” said John Skipper, ESPN president.  “Every day I am struck by the energy, creativity and focus of our people to stay in front.  As we enter 2018, I like our hand.”


ESPN is the nation’s leading sports media entity

The ESPN brand is both widely popular and deeply embedded in the daily lives of sports fans.

  • ESPN’s total average audience rises to as many as 208 million Americans in a month (75% of the population) and the network annually airs almost all of cable’s most-viewed programs. In fact, for 2017 through December 12, ESPN posted the top 10 biggest cable audiences (16 of top 20) and saw prime-time ratings rise for the year, putting the network behind only Fox News.
  • ESPN Digital is by far the world’s leading sports digital platform, averaging 117 million users a month, accounting for 17% of all sports digital usage – more than the Nos. 2, 3, and 4 sports properties combined.
  • ESPN Radio is the nation’s largest sports radio network (more than 500 affiliates).
  • ESPN The Magazine is read by 100 million people per issue (print and digital), more than any other magazine.

And the Oscar goes to….

For the first time, ESPN. O.J.: Made in America, a 7.5-hour epic, won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.  The critically acclaimed product of ESPN Films swept the major awards from film critics and festivals.

You Need a Backbone to Stand Tall

The backbone of a sports network is its live event portfolio, and this year’s programming acquisitions and renewals – highlighted by the return of top-shelf Top Rank Boxing matches and Formula One coming in 2018, plus renewals with the Big Ten and FIBA – bolstered ESPN’s unrivaled collection of sports properties.

Key Programming Breaks through the Clutter

More than ever, live sports are of unsurpassed value to advertisers as appointment programming that is viewed live.  Viewership highlights of 2017:

  • NBA Finalson ABC:  most-watched NBA Finals since 1998  (playoffs before Finals up 5%)
  • Pacquiao vs. Horn: most-watched boxing telecast on cable television since 2006
  • College Football on ABC: Saturday Night Football was the most-watched college football franchise among all networks in any time slot for the second consecutive year.
  • College Football on ESPN/ESPN2: ESPN/ ESPN2 comprised 47 of cable’s biggest 50 audiences.
  • Monday Night Football (season to date, 15 games in 14 weeks): ESPN won the night among all networks in all key male and adult demos all 14 weeks.
  • Men’s College World Series (16 games): up 56%
  • MLB Home Run Derby: up 55%
  • MLS Playoffs (seven games): up 38% from 2016; championship game up 20% from 2015 (last time on ESPN)
  • NCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship: up 29%
  • US Open Women’s Final: up 26% and the best in ESPN’s three years
  • Women’s College World Series (15 games): up 21%
  • NBA Summer League (39 games): up 18%
  • NBA (season to date, 20 games): up 16% and up 23% among Adults 18-49
  • College Football’s “New Year’s Six” and the 2017 Championship Game: up 15%
  • WNBA Finals (five games): up 15%
  • NBA Draft: up 14%
  • Little League World Series (32 games): up 12%

ESPN Digital – Truly the Worldwide Leader

Over the past 12 months (Nov. 2016 – Oct. 2017), no sports brand in the world reached a greater number of global sports fans than ESPN Digital – an average of more than 117 million unique users a month, peaking with 133 million in October.  That kept ESPN no. 1 in sports in average minute audience, total minutes of usage and total visits, and accounted for 17% of all sports usage across digital platforms – more than the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 sports properties combined.

Stream On

ESPN continues to grow its meaningful streaming audience. Viewership across computers, smartphones, tablets and OTT devices averaged 9.6 million unique devices and 2.1 billion minutes per month, up 18% and 33%, respectively, from a year ago.

Excellence in Journalism

  • Outside the Lines and E:60 both were enhanced and relaunched with new regular time slots as they set the bar for consistently high-level storytelling and enterprise journalism. Each show added to its crowded trophy shelf:  OTL received a Gracie Award for its investigative reporting on the Baylor Rape Crisis and won the ETHOS Award by the Institute of Sports Law & Ethics; E:60 received two Edward R Murrow Awards and a Sports Emmy, its 12th in the last eight years.
  • ESPN’s digital and print unit received more than 125 honors overall this year for its captivating storytelling across all mediums, including four Best American Sports Writing selections, three dozen design and photo awards, and citations by min Magazine for Best Editorial Team and Best Design Team.
  • Pardon the Interruption co-hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, became the first sports journalists to be honored with the National Press Club’s Fourth Estate Award. The show set the standard for innovative, fast-paced debate programming upon its launch in 2001.
  • The Undefeated celebrated its first birthday and launched the inaugural class of Rhoden Fellows, a sports journalism internship for aspiring African American journalists from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The platform investigated the complex role race plays in determining which players play certain positions in the NFL via a special project, “Segregation in the NFL.” Also, the site won Webby and EPPY (Editor & Publisher) awards for best sports site.

Always the Standard, Now Available in New Ways

SportsCenter has served as the template for sports news since its 1979 launch and its evolution now includes applying the strength of its brand name to the digital ecosystem in various ways.  SportsCenter Right Now segments are now seen during daytime hours as well as halftime of prime-time events.  In November, SportsCenter debuted on Snapchat with two shows per day (once per day on weekends), the first ever daily sports show on the platform.  The episodes are three to five minutes in length and present sports news, highlights and commentary in a fast-paced, high energy format heavy on personality that is produced specifically for Snapchat and designed explicitly for its users with original content.  More than 35 million people follow SportsCenter on Twitter. 

Late Night Sports > Late Night Laughs

The weekday midnight ET SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt consistently generates higher ratings among 18-34-year-old men than late-night talk shows on broadcast or cable.

In Digital Fantasy Sports – It’s Now One-stop Shopping

ESPN is the clear leader in the competitive digital sports information/highlights/fantasy category.  ESPN Fantasy consolidated its major fantasy apps – football, baseball, basketball and hockey – into a single app in August 2016. The results were immediate and record-breaking. Since then, total players for ESPN Fantasy’s major games have increased significantly: Basketball is up +67% and Hockey is up +36%, while ESPN Streak is up +68% for 2017.  In fact, in the last year, all 15 of ESPN Fantasy’s games enjoyed significant increases in number of players, with 14 of the 15 setting all-time records.

Leaving the Competition in the Rear View Mirror

This growth puts ESPN even further ahead of the competition.  This September, the ESPN Fantasy App produced more minutes than the Yahoo Fantasy, NFL Fantasy, DraftKings and CBS Fantasy apps combined. The ESPN Fantasy App was also the No. 1 fantasy app that month with 9.1 million unique users, 2.7 million more than the Yahoo Fantasy App at No. 2.

Quality, and Quantity

While the quality of ESPN’s productions is unsurpassed, it is all the more impressive when seen against the backdrop of the quantity:  In 2017, ESPN will present 16,000 live events and 65,000 total live hours of studio and event programming – TV and digital combined.


Sales and Distribution

A “Blueprint” Affiliate Agreement Boosts College Networks

A major affiliate agreement (Altice) – notable for the addition of the SEC Network and the ACC Network to come in 2019 – was universally heralded for what it portends (including as a “blueprint”), especially in this time of shifting media landscape and evolving technology.

U.S. Television – Enduring Strength Now More Available and Measured

ESPN led the industry to adopt evolutionary measurement practices, combining TV and streaming and including out-of-home viewing.  The early results – a 14% lift to average audience, including 23% among millennials (28% in prime time) for the seven weeks beginning September 25.

No Such Thing Anymore as “I missed the show

Making programming more accessible is an on-going emphasis, and a number of studio shows – some daily, some weekly – are now available on demand via the ESPN App, including College GameDay, First Take, The Jump, Pardon the Interruption, Around the Horn and more to come in 2018.

How to Find Young Men

ESPN remained cable’s best option for advertisers seeking the important and hard-to-reach young male viewer, despite the ever-increasing growth in video options and competition.  The current quarter will be the 18th consecutive in which ESPN has been the No. 1 full-time cable network among Men18-34, 18-49 and 25-54 (starting in Q3 2013).

They Like Us, They Really Like Us!

The Beta Research Corp. survey of cable executives ranked ESPN and ESPN2 the top two major ad-supported cable nets in perceived value.  ESPN led all networks for the 17th consecutive year, and ESPN2 was No. 2 for the 12th straight year.  Other findings from cable operators:

  • ESPN was also ranked the no. 1 most important network in their cable systems for subscriber retention and acquisition for the 13th straight year (and 16 of the past 17 years) with 97 percent of operators describing the network as “very important.”
  • ESPN ranked no. 1 among unaided mentions for the 13th straight year as the network with the most valuable programming to help create local ad sales revenue among major networks.

New Year Brings More Choice

In 2018, the curtain will rise on the biggest digital initiative, ESPN+, with a robust lineup of sports programming – approximately 10,000 live regional, national and international games and events a year.  Programming will include MLB, NHL, Major League Soccer, Grand Slam tennis, boxing and an extensive array of college sports. Individual sport packages will also be available for purchase, including MLB.TV, NHL.TV and MLS Live.

The new service will be accessed through an enhanced version of the current ESPN app. In addition to the multi-sport service, the ESPN app will include the news, highlights and scores that fans enjoy today. Consumers who are pay TV subscribers will also be able to access the ESPN television networks in the same app on an authenticated basis. For many sports fans, this app will become the premier digital destination for all their sports content. 


Reaching Fans in All Ways, at All Times, in All Places

There are, of course, many more “ESPNs” than those mentioned above to connect with sports fans, in the U.S. and around the world.

ESPN Radiothe nation’s largest sports radio network – celebrated its 25th anniversary and reaches more than 20 million listeners per week on more than 500 affiliates. The national Network said goodbye to Mike & Mike after nearly 18 years, and hello to Golic and Wingo, for morning drive with Mike Golic and Trey Wingo, with Mike Golic Jr.  Also, a new weekday lineup begins in 2018, expanding The Stephen A. Smith Show to full national distribution. In Chicago, ESPN Radio 1000’s Waddle & Silvy –– hosted by former Chicago Bears receiver Tom Waddle and Marc Silverman – was the No. 1-rated sports talk show during afternoon drive.  In Los Angeles, ESPN710 launched L.A.’s only local morning sports talk show with Keyshawn Johnson, Jorge Sedano and LZ Granderson.  In New York, ESPN 98.7FM was awarded three top honors by the New York State Broadcaster’s Association: Best On-Air Broadcast Personality/Team (Hahn, Humpty & Canty), Best Station Sponsored Event (The Michael Kay Show) and for the second year in a row Outstanding Commercial. 

ESPN Podcasts grew its audience while focusing on core categories, led by fantasy sports, notably football.  The move into storytelling was highlighted by the debut of the “30 for 30” series, an offshoot of the critically acclaimed film productions and ranked No. 5 on Entertainment Weekly’s Top 10 of 2017.  Now measured by PodTrac, ESPN ranks among the nation’s leaders in overall downloads and the key download per user metric while leading among sports offerings with almost five million unique listeners per month, more than double its closest sports competitor.  In 2018, new offerings will debut from Bomani Jones, Jalen Rose and David Jacoby, and Katie Nolan.

ESPN The Magazine had several crowning achievements in 2017, as noted by its editorial peers, the advertising community and, most importantly, readers and fans.  With more than 100 million unique readers and visitors each month, ESPN again easily outpaced every other magazine brand (sports or other). The magazine’s print reach of 18.5 million is up 12% over two years ago.  Editorially, ESPN received a prestigious National Magazine Award for General Excellence in the highly-competitive news, sports and entertainment category, its third win in its 19-year history.  Additionally, AdWeek named ESPN The Magazine the hottest sports or automotive magazine.  In 2018, ESPN The Magazine will celebrate two major milestones—its 20th anniversary and the 10th anniversary of The Body Issue—with content for every screen.

ESPN International reaches every continent and includes television, radio, print, internet, broadband, wireless, consumer products and event management.  The year’s highlights:

  • ESPN returned to TV screens in sub-Saharan Africa on Econet’s Kwesé platform in four countries (soon to expand to 19). A local edition of and the ESPN app will follow.
  • In the Philippines, TV5 and ESPN teamed to introduce a new brand on TV and digital, ESPN5. The existing Sports 5 properties will be rebranded, and its content will be supplemented by ESPN programming – including a daily edition of SportsCenter.
  • There were important developments with the NBA around the world, including expanding the breadth of programming across key territories. These include new studio and other non-game offerings in South America, China and Africa and more games:  adding 50 for a total of 170 in South America and the Caribbean; and doubling coverage to 240 in Australia/NZ (where the NBA is growing in prominence, thanks to Aussies in the league, evidenced by record TV and digital audiences).
  • Worldwide video views grew 39% compared to a year ago, to 1.41 billion, with noteworthy increases in key areas: Spanish-speaking Latin America up 107%, Brazil up 97% and India up 92%.   Also, views on apps grew at a particularly strong rate, increasing 167% to 179.2 million.
  • ESPN Play launched in Brazil with a strong on-demand lineup, including five live events per week and one daily live show.

ESPN Deportes serves Spanish-speaking fans in the U.S. with culturally-relevant programming of interest to Hispanic sports fans.  The World Baseball Classic Final between Puerto Rico and the U.S. delivered the largest audience ever for a baseball game on any Spanish-language network, and the entire tournament saw its audience increase 67% over the previous edition, in 2013.  On WatchESPN, its average of 197,000 viewers was ESPN Deportes’ largest non-soccer streaming audience of the year.

espnW continued to increase its presence across ESPN platforms, including writer/reporters Kate Fagan and Sarah Spain appearing more often across ESPN’s platforms, including Outside the Lines and Around the Horn and a national evening ESPN Radio show for Spain. Julie Foudy’s Foudy’s Find digital series had a hit with a feature on the San Diego Splash, which to date has had more than 15 million views on Facebook alone. In October, espnW hosted its eighth annual espnW: Women + Sports Summit at a new venue and headlined by Jeanie Buss, Sheryl Crow and Stephanie McMahon. 

ESPN also owns some of the events it televises, providing tremendous marketing opportunities.  In addition to the ESPYS and X Games – Summer in Minneapolis for the first time, and Winter in Aspen, Col., for a 16th year – through ESPN Events the company operates more than 31 events, highlighted by 14 college bowl games and 11 college basketball events.  New for 2017:  the PK80, a 16-team early-season men’s basketball event played over Thanksgiving weekend in Portland, Ore., to honor Nike co-founder and 2012 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Phil Knight in advance of his 80th birthday.

ESPN’s Corporate Citizenship department seeks a strategic approach encompassing all areas of the philanthropic discipline, including volunteerism, charitable giving, reputation management, cause marketing and sustainability.

  • ESPN and X Games launched the Shred Hate bullying prevention program in Colorado during the Winter X Games  By year’s end, it reduced bullying by 94% in schools. With this early success, Major League Baseball joined Shred Hate, and more than 25,000 students will be impacted in the 2017-18 school year.
  • ESPN built multifunctional sport courts in underprivileged neighborhoods in Mexico City, São Paulo, and Bangalore, India. The program also helps at-risk youth acquire marketable job expertise by building on six core sport-based skills.
  • ESPN raised over $9 million for the V Foundation for Cancer Research in 2017, bringing the 24-year total of contributions to $76 million.


Dave Nagle

As I write this on 11-11-21, it's now 35 years for me at ESPN, the only real job I’ve ever had. I joined merely to help with the upcoming America’s Cup in Australia. I was told it would be for three months at all of $5.50 per hour. I like to say I simply kept showing up. I’ve worked on almost every sport, plus answered viewer calls and letters (people used to write!), given tours, written the company newsletter and once drove NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon to the local airport. My travels have been varied…I’ve been to Martinsville, Darlington, Indy and Super Bowls; the America’s Cup (all 3) in San Diego and College GameDay in the sport’s meccas such as Eugene, Auburn, Lubbock, Stillwater and more; the NBA Finals, Wimbledon (16 times and counting) and the “other Bristol,” the one with a race track in Tennessee. These days, my main areas are tennis, UFC, boxing, network-wide ratings (by month/quarter/year), and corporate communications documents, including fact sheets, chronologies, lists and nearly 35 of the Year in Review press releases. UPDATE EXACTLY ONE YEAR LATER: Today, November 11, 2022, I am retiring from ESPN -- 36 years to the day I began. As I ride off into the sunset – top down and E Street Radio blaring – I do so with so many wonderful memories, proud of my contributions and a heart full of gratitude for the opportunity. 
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