2021 in Review

ESPN, Inc.: 2021 in Review

Major Programming Agreements Highlight the Year; ESPN+ a Key Component in All

In 2021, ESPN finalized and announced in rapid-fire an unprecedented succession of progressive, landmark and long-term programming agreements with key rightsholders that place an emphasis on exclusivity and multi-platform distribution – while two others took effect – that strengthen its future given the proven power of live sports.

 

Significantly, all include a substantial forward-looking direct-to-consumer component via ESPN+ – which grew 66% in the fiscal year to 17.1 million homes – and rights across the Walt Disney Company enterprise, notably with ABC.

Major Programming Agreements

  • A major expansion of SEC rights announced in December 2020 that began to take effect this year with football games on ESPN+ and solidifies ESPN as the conference’s exclusive rights holder beginning in 2024.
  • Renewals with MLB, NFL and the AELTC for Wimbledon that include new opportunities for ESPN+ and for ABC including the potential for MLB playoff games, two Super Bowls and its first-ever live Wimbledon matches.
  • Later in the year, a second agreement with the NFL secured for ESPN the new Monday night Wild Card game for five years beginning with the 2021 season. The game telecast will be accompanied by Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli on ESPN2 and ESPN+.
  • Bringing the NHL back to The Walt Disney Company with four Stanley Cup Finals on ABC during the seven years, 28 exclusive regular-season games per season between ESPN and ABC, 75 national regular-season games produced by ESPN that stream exclusively on both ESPN+ and Hulu, and the move to ESPN+ of the NHL’s out-of-market streaming package of more than 1,000 contests.
  • Adding La Liga, arguably the world’s top soccer league, with ESPN+ the new English- and Spanish-language home for all 380 LaLiga Santander matches and a selection of LaLiga SmartBank contests in the United States.
  • The 2020 PGA Tour agreement that started this year adds PGA TOUR LIVE with more than 4,000 hours of coverage in 2022 from 36 events to ESPN+.
  • Other agreements will continue and expand ESPN’s long-time leadership in the college space – renewals that include 500+ games each on ESPN+ from the Big Sky, Big West and Western Athletic Conferences and the Horizon League. Also, the Central Intercollegiate Athletics Association (CIAA) returns to ESPN platforms.

 

These developments represent a particularly robust flurry of growing ESPN’s sports rights portfolio.  All are broad, lengthy and reflect the changing dynamic of television viewing habits while serving sports fans wherever they are.

“It has been an extremely productive and satisfying year for our pursuit of exclusive and premier content to fuel our businesses and serve sports fans across the platforms of The Walt Disney Company. We are driving value and maximizing revenue in parallel paths – the traditional ecosystem and the emerging direct-to-consumer future. We are investing in ESPN+ with compelling live events, studio shows and world-class original programming.  Our strategy is to navigate the evolution of consumer choice, following the fan.  As they continue to gravitate to digital and DTC, in these groundbreaking and innovative agreements we have the optionality we need.  As always, our North Star is being there for the fan and creating shareholder value.  We do that with innovation.  Technology is our heritage at ESPN and at The Walt Disney Company and being at the front edge of the viewer’s experience is baked into our mission.

 

“At the same time, at ESPN we know that a critical element of our success is ensuring a culture of inclusion – valuing different perspectives, voices and ideas – so that we can continue making great content that appeals to a diverse and growing audience.  It’s on every manager to create and cultivate an open, safe and caring environment, and we’re proud how leaders and employees alike are taking action and making a commitment to that kind of culture.” 

— Jimmy Pitaro, Chairman, ESPN and Sports Content

ESPN Highlights

Key statistics and developments that defined ESPN’s successes on a wide variety of fronts.

Linear Television Networks

Network-wide Viewership

  • The current quarter will be the 34th consecutive in which ESPN has been the No. 1 full-time basic cable network among Men 18-34 (starting in Q3 2013).
  • Looking at the streak in terms of years, ESPN has been 1 for at least 30 straight and also 22 consecutive in prime time among Men 18-34.  Also, ESPN2 is right behind ESPN among cable sports networks among M18-34; it has been #2 every year (once tied) since its 1993 launch.
  • This year will mark the 30th straight ESPN finishes No. 1 among Men 18-49.
  • ESPN will finish No. 1 among People 18-34 and 18-49 for the 12th straight year.
  • ESPN will be #1 in prime time among all key adult demos (P18-34, P18-49, P25-54) for an eighth straight year.

Sport-by-Sport Event Viewership

  • Through 13 weeks, Monday Night Football on ESPN networks is averaging 13.2M viewers, up 11% vs. the 2020 season-to-date and up 4% from the same point in 2019. It has been the most-watched telecast of the night on all 13 Mondays among households, viewers and all key demos: men 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54, as well as persons 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54.  ESPN has been the most-watched network all 13 weeks (broadcast and cable) in prime time among households, viewers and the same key male and people demos, plus P55+.
  • The NBA Playoffs averaged five million viewers across ESPN/ESPN2, up 35% year-over-year. The Finals were up 32% from the pandemic-shifted finals a year ago. ESPN/ABC aired 15 of the top 20 nationally televised games of the 2020-21 regular season.
  • ESPN’s 2021-22 NBA Opening Week averaged 1.82M viewers, the network’s most-viewed Opening Week since 2017. Celtics/Knicks averaged 1,955,000 viewers, the most-viewed ESPN Wednesday Opener since 2003. For the season to date (through December 6), the audience is up 25% vs. last season and up 4% from 2019.
  • ABC aired it most-viewed College Football Kickoff Weekend since 2017 and third best in the past decade. Clemson vs. Georgia (8.9M viewers) ranks as the second-most-viewed Kickoff Saturday game in the past 20 years (behind FSU/ALA in 2017). Meanwhile, Notre Dame vs. Florida State (7.8M viewers) ranks as the second-best Opening Week Sunday game on record.
  • College football across ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 averaged 1.98M viewers, up 19% from 2020 and up 2% from two years ago. For ABC, it was the best season since 2017, an average of more than four million viewers, up 25% from last year and up 2% from 2019.  The increase was led by Saturday Night Football, which averaged more than five million viewers, up 36% for the year and on par with 2019 and ‘18.
  • Sunday Night Baseball was up 18% overall, including up 25% among People 18-34.
  • ESPN’s MLB Wild Card game between the N.Y. Yankees and Boston Red Sox averaged 7.7M viewers and was the network’s most-viewed Wild Card contest of all time and the second-most-viewed Wild Card game of all time.
  • The NHL returned to ESPN networks after 17 years, and the opening-night doubleheader averaged 884K viewers, the top-performing ever and 54% better than 2019.
  • Combat Sports – boxing and MMA – continue to be a strong performer on both network television and ESPN+. The prelims for UFC 264 averaged 1.6M viewers on ESPN, the second-biggest prelim audience of all time (UFC 246).  Adding ESPN Deportes and ESPN+, it averaged 2.2M viewers, also trailing only UFC 246.  Also, ABC aired its first two live UFC events this year and a total of 25 original hours of UFC coverage, including UFC Countdown and UFC Live.
  • The 25th anniversary season of the WNBA saw double-digit growth in both the regular season and playoffs compared to 2020 and 2019. The regular season was the most-viewed since 2009, the playoffs were the most-viewed since 2014, and the finals were the most-viewed since 2017.
  • Historic storylines at tennis’ US Open led to an audience increase of 33% in prime time over the two weeks, culminating with big increases for the championship matches. The women’s final between unheralded teenagers Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez averaged 2.44M viewers, up 30% over last year.  The men’s final – with Novak Djokovic aiming for the Grand Slam and a record 21 Majors – was seen by an average of 2.05M viewers, an increase of 37%.
  • The 33 MLS matches on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 delivered an average audience of 273K viewers, a 17 percent increase compared to a year ago (39 matches).
  • The EURO 2020 audience was up over 30% from 2016. The Final ranks as the most-watched EURO match since 2008 and was up 43% from the 2016 Final.
  • The Formula One Grand Prix season is on track to be the most-viewed ever (topping the 1995 campaign on ESPN networks), averaging 938K viewers. The average is up double-digits from 2020 and 2019.
  • The Home Run Derby averaged 7.1M viewers, its most since 2017.
  • NCAA Championship Highlights
    • Most-viewed Women’s College World Series on record and best Softball Super Regionals since 2012.
    • Most-viewed Women’s Gymnastics Championship ever on ESPN networks.
    • Most-viewed Men’s and Women’s College Cups (soccer) ever.
    • Most-viewed Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament Championship Game since 2014 and best Final Four since 2012.
    • Most-viewed NCAA Hockey Championship since 2014.
    • Most-viewed Men’s College Lacrosse Championship since 2017.
  • Across ABC, ESPN and ESPN2, X Games Aspen averaged 600K viewers and July’s X Games 2021 averaged 471K viewers, both up double digits vs. the previous competition.
  • The Nathan’s Hot Dog Contest averaged 1.35M viewers on ESPN, up double-digits vs. 2020 and second-best since 2014 (behind 2019).

Studio Show Viewership

  • Pardon the Interruption at 5:30 p.m. ET is the most-watched daily sports news/studio show on television (626K P2+).
  • The midnight SportsCenter is the most-watched daily sports news/studio show on television among P18-34, P18-49, P25-54, M18-34 and M18-49.
  • ESPN airs the top nine most-watched daily sports news/studio shows on television (P2+) and 14 of the top 15.
  • College GameDay is the second most-watched sports news/studio show on cable (and was up 39% year over year) and Monday Night Countdown is #3 (up 26% vs. 2020 and up 10% over 2019).
  • In November, the following studio shows enjoyed their most-watched month in a very long time:
      • Get Up posted its most-watched month ever, averaging 433K viewers.
      • NFL Live had its most-watched month since December 2018 (35 months), with 430K viewers.
      • Around the Horn had its most-watched month since December 2019 (23 months), with 523K viewers.
      • First Take had its most-watched month since January 2020 (22 months), with 451K viewers.
      • SportsCenter at 1 a.m. ET had its most-watched month since January 2020 (22 months), with 541K viewers.
      • SportsCenter at 7 a.m. had its most-watched month since February 2020 (21 months), with 282K viewers.
      • Pardon the Interruption had its most-watched month since February 2020 (21 months) with 717K viewers.
      • SportsCenter at 6 p.m. had its most-watched month since December 2020 (11 months) with 501K viewers.

ESPN in the News

  • ACC Network will soon be added for Comcast’s Xfinity customers, as announced November 30, giving fans of the Atlantic Coast Conference access to the multiplatform network. The availability of ACCN is part of Comcast and The Walt Disney Company’s content carriage agreement renewal that will continue to make Disney’s programming available to Xfinity TV customers.  With the addition of Comcast, ACCN is now fully distributed with every major satellite, telco and digital provider across the country.
  • ESPN led all network groups with nine trophies at the Sports Emmys, including ESPN Deportes sweeping the three Spanish-language categories. ESPN’s long heritage of great storytelling was honored twice, for Blackfeet Boxing on ESPN+ and a Sunday NFL Countdown feature The Big Mo Show.  Also, ESPN’s enterprise journalism brands – such as SC Featured and E60 – continue to receive numerous accolades, including Murrow Awards, Gracies, NAMIC Vision Awards and more. 
  • The Last Dance won an NAACP Image Award as TV’s best documentary, one of nine awards garnered by the 2020 ratings phenomenon that went behind the scenes of the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls featuring Michael Jordan. Other awards included a Primetime Emmy, a TCA Award and a Critics Choice Real TV Award.

ESPN Films

  • In 2021, ESPN Films released “144” about the unprecedented 2020 WNBA season in the bubble; 30 for 30’s “Al Davis vs. the NFL” about one of the great rivalries in the history of the National Football League; “Breakaway” about WNBA superstar and activist Maya Moore; and “Once Upon a Time in Queens” about the 1986 Mets.

Direct to Consumer

  • ESPN+ grew 66% during the 2020-21 fiscal year and has more than 17.1 million subscribers (as of Oct. 2, 2021).  True to ESPN heritage, the innovative use of technology in developing ESPN+ reflects ESPN and Disney’s status as a world-class technology leader.
  • ESPN+ has the company poised for the growing importance of the digital pipeline. With an unlimited capacity to present live and on-demand events, studio shows and series, ESPN+ has greatly expanded the variety and volume of sports programming ESPN can deliver to fans.  Also, it has created a more direct relationship with them, building brand connection and affinity in a relatively short period of time, thanks to how it has resonated with fans.  ESPN+ also helps build a bridge to younger viewers, a goal of all rightsholders; indeed, half of its audience is under 35.  Key integrations of ESPN+ were completed on both the Hulu and Xfinity platforms.   
  • In addition to the recent major rights agreements mentioned above that help bring the annual total of live events to more than 20,000, thousands of hours of new studio and original programming in 2021 added to the terrific value proposition for fans. These include: Man in the Arena: Tom Brady, a 10-part series with the legendary quarterback giving a first-hand account of each of his 10 Super Bowl seasons; Stephen A’s World, the signature studio show in which host and executive producer Stephen A. Smith provides his entertaining perspective on sports stories that matter and interviews celebrities from sports, entertainment and beyond; SportsNation, a weekday morning look at sports highlights through the lens of social media, trending topics opinion and debate; expansions of the popular Peyton’s Places starring Peyton Manning via Abby’s Places with Abby Wambach (soccer) and Eli’s Places with Eli Manning (NFL); Turning Point, a weekly review of NFL action; Why Not Us, an inside look at HBCU sports, featuring a season with Florida A&M football and another with North Carolina Central basketball, executive produced by The Undefeated, Stephen A. Smith and NBA star Chris Paul; the seven-part, behind-the-scenes Quest for the Stanley Cup and more.
  • Combat Sports has become a tentpole property for DTC, driving subscriptions and retention, with major events available via ESPN+ PPV.
      • Seven of the 10 biggest-selling UFC PPVs ever on ESPN+ came in 2021, including the best, UFC 264. Also, seven of the 10 most-viewed UFC Fight Nights aired this year.  Overall, the category includes 12 UFC PPVs, 17 exclusive UFC Fight Nights, 35 Top Rank boxing events and this year ESPN aired The Ultimate Fighter for the first time.  
      • ESPN teamed with FOX Sports to present Fury vs. Wilder III world heavyweight championship on ESPN+ PPV and FOX Sports PPV. Also, the Crawford vs. Porter welterweight world championship was the first-ever exclusive ESPN+ PPV event for the ESPN/Top Rank partnership.

Digital

  • ESPN Digital, by far the world’s leading sports digital platform, has averaged 102.5 million unique visitors per month this year, 16% larger than No. 2 and up 12% from 2020.
  • ESPN Digital set a U.S. Sports category record of 120.0 million users in October, surpassing the previous record ESPN set in July of 118.6 million.
  • ESPN Digital’s streak of leading the U.S. sports category stretched for 40 consecutive months (March 2018 – June 2021).
  • The ESPN App continues to be the most popular sports app in the U.S. in terms of reach, 3.4 times larger than the No. 2 sports app and up +14% from 2020.
  • The ESPN App had its best month ever in October with 27.3 million unique visitors.
  • The ESPN Fantasy App continues to be the #1 fantasy sports app in the U.S. in terms of reach, 33% larger than No. 2.
  • ESPN’s digital content routinely averages a higher average minute audience than many cable sports television networks

Social Media

  • ESPN is the No. 1 sports media publisher for engagement on social platforms with 3.6B total actions across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and 25.1B video views across YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.
  • The 2021 NFL Draft was the most-watched live digital program in ESPN history. The three-day streaming event totaled 9M viewers (+41% from 2019; no streaming in 2020) and over 80M minutes of watch time (five times 2019).  The 1.3M views on YouTube for the first round is a platform record for an ESPN livestream.
  • Off-platform, the company has been innovative, using Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Snap. The company’s efforts were rewarded, as it continues to be the most engaging sports media company on social.  Highlights:
  • ESPN’s primary social media accounts (ESPN and SportsCenter) experienced increases in average social engagements per post across Instagram compared to 2020 (through October) (Instagram – +10%). On Instagram alone, the ESPN and SportsCenter accounts generated more than 2.1 billion total social engagements.
  • ESPN’s Digital Production team shattered audience records in 2021. On YouTube, ESPN has nearly doubled viewership with over 5.5B views and 12B minutes this year. The growth has been powered by the launch of SportsNation, which has reached 500M unique viewers, and the launch of several new digital live titles, including the daily Debatable and the NHL pregame show The Drop.
  • ESPN’s main TikTok account has surpassed 20M followers, the fastest for any ESPN account to achieve that milestone on any platform (3 years vs. 7-10 years). The account is a top five most-followed and engaged brand on the entire platform and over 60% of Gen-Z fans say ESPN TikTok is their most loved ESPN presence.
  • On Snapchat, ESPN reached 5M unduplicated viewers across all of its properties (Jan. – Sept.) while adding a daily afternoon SportsCenter, Undefeated On the Yard and College GameDay: All Access. Also, the Hoop Streams brand will expand into Snapchat starting in late December.
  • The most popular posts of the year by platform: InstagramThe Lakers and Pistons had to be separated multiple times after this play between LeBron and Isaiah Stewart (1.73M Social Engagements, 14.1M Video views), TwitterBrady and Mahomes playing in the Super Bowl (285K Social Engagements), Facebook: This one-legged high jumper will always be AMAZING 👏  (1.4M Social Engagements; 17M Video Views), and TikTok: @tonyhawk helping Sky Brown face her fear of going down the mega ramp 👏 (15.6M Likes, 108M Views).
  • ESPN hired BallerVisions founder Marcel (Celly) Chappell and acquires BallerVisions’ social channels –on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter – to expand its social and digital presence in the high school landscape.

Audio

ESPN Radio

  • ESPN Radio, the nation’s largest sports network which celebrates its 30th anniversary on January 1, 2022, once again brought listeners an unmatched schedule of live events throughout the year. The network marked its 24th consecutive year of bringing fans every pitch of the MLB Postseason, as well as every game of the NBA Playoffs and Finals, the College Football Playoff semifinals and National Championship, the NFL Draft, NBA Draft and more, totaling more than 220 events.
  • This year saw the network’s already strong weekday lineup further expand, offering expert analysis and insight during key windows throughout the day while regularly welcoming top-level and news-making guests.
    • Keyshawn, JWill & Max and Greeny most recently led ESPN Radio to a strong start in the fall ratings book with year-over-year audience increases of 19 and 28 percent, respectively, across all platforms combined in October.
    • Super Bowl Champion Chris Canty (paired with Mike Golic Jr.), Pro Bowl linebacker Bart Scott and Emmy-winning broadcaster Alan Hahn became staples in the daily talk radio lineup with their shows Canty and Golic Jr. and Bart and Hahn.

ESPN Podcasts

  • Monthly records for listenership were set by Fantasy Focus Football, The Lowe Post and The Right Time with Bomani Jones.
  • Reflective of their popularity, two shows expanded. The Right Time with Bomani Jones increased from two shows per week to three and added video, resulting in a record-setting unique audience in October.  The College Football Podcast expanded from two times per week to five and added top college football voices to the roster, resulting in a 248 percent year-over-year increase in unique audience growth (per Podtrac).
  • Several new shows debuted – Bald Men on Campus, Black History Always, Daily Wager, DC & RC, First Take Her Take, In the Crease – The ESPN NHL Podcast, Organized Chaos, Swagu & Perk and The King of Crenshaw (30 for 30 podcast).
  • These shows brought a wide variety of new, diverse and industry-leading voices to the platform: Charly Arnolt, Matt Barrie, Jay Bilas, Ryan Clark, Linda Cohn, Rece Davis, Elle Duncan, LaPhonso Ellis, Paul Finebaum, Joe Fortenbaugh, Domonique Foxworth, Tyler Fulghum, Joey Galloway, Seth Greenberg, Emily Kaplan, Anita Marks, Kimberley A. Martin, Booger McFarland, Chiney Ogwumike, Kendrick Perkins, Rex Ryan, Bart Scott, Marcus Spears, Justin Tinsley and Clinton Yates.

Key Initiatives

DEI – Innovation – The Undefeated – espnW – Corporate Citizenship – Owned Events

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion -- in Programming across Platforms and within the Company

  • At The Walt Disney Company, it is vitally important to attract and develop a diverse pool of talent so the workforce reflects the diversity of the world in which we live and do business. In addition, it is then imperative to foster a workplace where everyone feels engaged and free to contribute to the creative process.  ESPN’s ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion includes talent recruiting, retention and development efforts that prioritize the cultivation of a strong, diverse and thriving workforce. 
  • ESPN implemented required training and Inclusive Leader Assessments: an Inclusion & Belonging @ ESPN workshop, a follow-up DEI Toolkit and an Inclusion i360 assessment. Virtually 100% of people managers have completed the workshop along with more than half of individual contributors with more sessions scheduled. The toolkit offers tips to support inclusion with tips on hosting inclusive meetings and tips on allyship.  It also contains an inclusive calendar that highlights significant dates many may not be aware of but that teammates may celebrate. Additionally, almost all VPs/above, including Jimmy Pitaro’s direct reports and their reports, have gone through the i360, which reliably identifies a leader’s specific strengths and weaknesses around inclusion. By the end of 2021, over 100 leaders will have gone through the assessment and had a debrief session with a coach.
  • ESPN champions nine Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and four Affinity Groups – voluntary, employee-led groups formed around shared identity, interests, and pursuits with 2000 members strong across ESPN. The ERGs include Emerging Leaders (Early Career Professionals), ESPN SALUTE, (Veterans), ESPN Women, ESPN ARISE (Asians and Pacific Islanders). ENABLED (people with disabilities), SOMOS (Hispanic/Latinx), ESPN Families, PULSE (Black and African Americans) and EQUAL (LGBTQIA+ employees). The Affinity Groups are the Multicultural Women’s Network, T.R.U.S.T., (mental health), YBI (Young Black Idea) and the ESPN Executive Women’s Forum.  In addition, employees are free to participate in Disney-wide communities like SHALOM, Salam, and the Native American/Indigenous Business Employee Group.
  • This fall, ESPN launched an effort to improve gender equality in online coverage, with a rebrand across ESPN.com and the ESPN App in the women’s digital space. This effort is a continued priority for the Stats & Information Group (SIG), with many teams helping on the initiative. Fans can now find what they want readily available within the walls of ESPN, keeping them informed and engaged directly within our products, with the coverage only ESPN can deliver.  Paired with world-class streaming, editorial and live-game experience, ESPN is the pre-eminent digital destination for WNBA and women’s college basketball fans.
  • ESPN launches ESPN+ MAS, a new section of ESPN+ with content for, and about, Hispanic and LatinX athletes and fans. It includes more than 1,300 live events, 100 30 for 30 documentary titles and at least 1,000 hours of studio shows.
  • ESPN and the Central Intercollegiate Athletics Association (CIAA) announced a multi-year, multi-platform media rights agreement, enhancing ESPN’s college sports portfolio and coverage of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) with the addition of the conference’s men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. ESPNU will carry both the Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championship Games; all 22 games of both tournaments will be available on an ESPN platform.

Innovation

  • In September, ESPN announced the ESPN Edge Innovation Center and the three founding partners, global professional services and innovation company Accenture; Microsoft, a leader in engineering and digital technology; and Verizon, one of the world’s leading providers of 5G technology. The aim is to collaborate with other leaders in technology and with Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution (DMED) to explore how new technologies like 5G, Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) and mobile edge computing (MEC) can enable new ways for fans to experience sports. The ESPN Edge Innovation Center will include key partnerships in the categories of technology, consulting, connectivity and hardware. 
  • Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli (aka, the “ManningCast”) debuted on ESPN2 as a complement to the traditional MNF telecast with former quarterback greats Peyton and Eli Manning. An instant hit, reaching as many as an average of nearly two million viewers, the duo watches the game and talks football with guests ranging from celebrities and sports stars from the NFL and other sports. To date, it has registered the seven biggest audiences ever for an ESPN alternate telecast (since 2014).
  • In addition to Peyton and Eli, creative use of alternate telecasts as a way to grow the audience continues to be a focus, ever since the 2014 BCS Championship. In MLB, “StatCast” alternate telecasts, which debuted in 2018, were produced twice for Sunday Night Baseball, for the Home Run Derby and a Wild Card game.  In a first, two NFL games this year – the Wild Card game in January and the MNF opener in September – were supplemented by an analytics and betting-focused discussion show alongside the traditional telecast.  In April, the same approach was used for an NBA contest.  In August, as was first done during the 2019 Little League World Series, a Sunday Night Baseball game was accompanied by a “KidsCast” on ESPN2.  The telecast featured young aspiring sportscasters including former LLWS star  Mo’ne Davis.  An NBA game in May was paired with Marvel’s Arena of Heroes on ESPN2 which weaved elements of an original Marvel story and characters into the live action with 3-D virtual characters, animation packages and customized graphics.
  • In October, MNF debuted the Line-to-Gain-Virtual-Plane on a pyloncam at a critical goaline play in the last minute of the Buffalo-Tennessee game.

The Undefeated

  • Over the last five years, The Undefeated has enjoyed incredible growth, driven by the tremendous work done by the stellar team. Today, The Undefeated is the premier multimedia platform for exploring the intersections of race, sports and culture, as well as fashion, music, and the arts, and poised for further expansion within Disney.  From a compelling website to best-selling children’s books, to music albums, to powerful television documentaries, to identifying and developing fresh voices that appear on every ESPN screen, the Undefeated has claimed the clear high ground in thought leadership that has served fans and ESPN so well. The Undefeated’s unique insights, voices and evolving storytelling have served as a model for how ESPN can reach fans in new ways. 
  • In 2021, ESPN’s race, sports and culture platform forged ahead with multi-dimensional storytelling about the Black experience
  • The Undefeated powered and led the January launch of ESPN’s Black History Always, a companywide content commitment to produce and highlight Black stories beyond the traditional Black History Month of February.
  • The Undefeated partnered with ESPN+ to launch The Undefeated on ESPN+ in February, a year-round home on the industry-leading sports streaming service for stories at the intersection of sports and the Black experience. The Undefeated on ESPN+ is the exclusive home for the “Black History Always Specials,” a series of new, original short films available on the 29th of each month. A Love Letter to Black Women kicked off the series in March. Other titles included I Run with Maud: A Promise. A Movement (October), Long Live Seven: The Bryce ‘Simba’ Gowdy’s Story narrated by Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (November) and more.
  • The Undefeated on ESPN+ debuted Why Not Us – an eight-part, all-access docuseries that captured the distinct culture, experiences, and challenges of an HBCU athletic program through the coaches and student-athletes’ eyes. The first season, Why Not Us: North Carolina Central University Men’s Basketball premiered in February, followed by Why Not Us: Florida A&M University Football in October.
  • Online, TheUndefeated,com featured the industry’s most comprehensive coverage of sports and student life at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Highlights include Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders coaching the Jackson State Tigers; The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings and profiles; the fifth class of the Rhoden Fellows; and more. Additionally, The Undefeated commissioned and published enterprise projects such as the definitive profile of Anderson Paak’s family, the high school basketball team that took a knee in Oklahoma, America’s homicide crisis, commentary on the firing of Raiders coach Jon Gruden and more.
  • Projects across The Walt Disney Company further established The Undefeated as a multi-platform unit for Black stories:
      • Two television specials in February – The March on Washington: Keepers of the Dream on National Geographic and available next day on Hulu, and A Room of Our Own on ESPN.
      • An ESPN 30 for 30 podcast The King of Crenshaw in August examined rapper Nipsey Hussle’s impact on the sports world.
      • The Undefeated and Disney Music Group Hollywood Records released two volumes of Music For The Movement featuring old songs reimagined by young artists from this generation. Volume II, Black History Always, was released in February, and Volume III Liberated was released in June.

espnW

  • Throughout the year, espnW.com showcased and supported big events and cultural moments, including the WNBA’s 25th season with a look at 25 milestones; a Cover Story (a multi-platform, in-depth journalism franchise) on Layshia Clarendon of the Minnesota Lynx, the league’s first openly non-binary player; an examination of the league’s financial outlook; and coverage of the Tokyo Olympics with pieces such as profiles of Diana Taurasi, Suni Lee and Rose Lavelle.
  • Throughout the year, espnW.com showcased and supported big events and cultural moments, including the WNBA’s 25th season with a look at 25 milestones, a Cover Story on Layshia Clarendon, an examination of the league’s financial outlook and coverage of the Tokyo Olympics with pieces such as profiles of Diana Taurasi, Suni Lee and Rose Lavelle.
  • espnW continues to grow on social platforms, with its social handles growing 30% year over year, now up to 1.3M total followers.
  • The 12th annual espnW: Women + Sports Summit returned to an in-person format in October at The Lodge at Torrey Pines and was livestreamed for a virtual audience. Speakers included Halle Berry, Sarah McLachlan, Gabby Thomas, April Ross, Nicole Lynn, and more. The Summit had approximately 200 attendees on-site, 187,810 total views across platforms (+14% from 2020), 475,403 total minutes watched (+11% from 2020), and over 432M potential impressions on social.

Corporate Citizenship

  • This year, as announced in 2020, ESPN devoted 60% of its youth sports grants to Black and African American communities, for a total of over $1 million.
  • ESPN launched the Return to Play Fund, which was created to support and inspire Black and Brown youth who have been challenged the most during the pandemic. The fund will use sports to center health, wellbeing and systemic solutions to the heart of community recovery across the United States.
  • ESPN continues to fundraise for the V Foundation, raising over $15 million for cancer research in fiscal year 2021. Overall, ESPN has raised over has raised over $142 million for the V Foundation.
  • To help fight the Covid-19 pandemic, and together with the CDC and Ad Council, ESPN ran a series of PSAs across its platforms encouraging sports fans to get the vaccination. Additionally, ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn. served as a vaccination site for the surrounding community.

Owned Events

  • Hosted by actor Anthony Mackie, The ESPYS returned to an in-person ceremony in New York City. The show honored the return to sports, as well as inspiring stories of service and perseverance from the sports world.
  • Aspen, Colo., hosted the X Games Aspen for a 20th consecutive year while the summer event returned after a year away and was held at sites in southern California, albeit without fans. Across ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC there were double-digit viewership increases, and usage on @XGames social and digital media enjoyed triple-digit growth.  In December, the first-ever X Games in Japan were announced, to be held in Chiba in April 2022 with Skateboard, BMX and Moto X competitions over three days at ZOZO Marine Stadium.
  • ESPN Events debuted new events in 2021, the Boeing Red Tails Classic college football game in August honoring Tuskegee Airmen, and December’s Wasabi Fenway Bowl in Boston, while returning to a full 18-game college bowl schedule. The annual season-opening State Farm Champions Classic basketball doubleheader featuring Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State was also renewed through 2025.

 

-30-

 

Media Contact: Dave Nagle ([email protected])

 

2021 in Review

ESPN, Inc.: 2021 in Review

Major Programming Agreements Highlight the Year; ESPN+ a Key Component in All

In 2021, ESPN finalized and announced in rapid-fire an unprecedented succession of progressive, landmark and long-term programming agreements with key rightsholders that place an emphasis on exclusivity and multi-platform distribution – while two others took effect – that strengthen its future given the proven power of live sports.

 

Significantly, all include a substantial forward-looking direct-to-consumer component via ESPN+ – which grew 66% in the fiscal year to 17.1 million homes – and rights across the Walt Disney Company enterprise, notably with ABC.

Major Programming Agreements

  • A major expansion of SEC rights announced in December 2020 that began to take effect this year with football games on ESPN+ and solidifies ESPN as the conference’s exclusive rights holder beginning in 2024.
  • Renewals with MLB, NFL and the AELTC for Wimbledon that include new opportunities for ESPN+ and for ABC including the potential for MLB playoff games, two Super Bowls and its first-ever live Wimbledon matches.
  • Later in the year, a second agreement with the NFL secured for ESPN the new Monday night Wild Card game for five years beginning with the 2021 season. The game telecast will be accompanied by Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli on ESPN2 and ESPN+.
  • Bringing the NHL back to The Walt Disney Company with four Stanley Cup Finals on ABC during the seven years, 28 exclusive regular-season games per season between ESPN and ABC, 75 national regular-season games produced by ESPN that stream exclusively on both ESPN+ and Hulu, and the move to ESPN+ of the NHL’s out-of-market streaming package of more than 1,000 contests.
  • Adding La Liga, arguably the world’s top soccer league, with ESPN+ the new English- and Spanish-language home for all 380 LaLiga Santander matches and a selection of LaLiga SmartBank contests in the United States.
  • The 2020 PGA Tour agreement that started this year adds PGA TOUR LIVE with more than 4,000 hours of coverage in 2022 from 36 events to ESPN+.
  • Other agreements will continue and expand ESPN’s long-time leadership in the college space – renewals that include 500+ games each on ESPN+ from the Big Sky, Big West and Western Athletic Conferences and the Horizon League. Also, the Central Intercollegiate Athletics Association (CIAA) returns to ESPN platforms.

 

These developments represent a particularly robust flurry of growing ESPN’s sports rights portfolio.  All are broad, lengthy and reflect the changing dynamic of television viewing habits while serving sports fans wherever they are.

“It has been an extremely productive and satisfying year for our pursuit of exclusive and premier content to fuel our businesses and serve sports fans across the platforms of The Walt Disney Company. We are driving value and maximizing revenue in parallel paths – the traditional ecosystem and the emerging direct-to-consumer future. We are investing in ESPN+ with compelling live events, studio shows and world-class original programming.  Our strategy is to navigate the evolution of consumer choice, following the fan.  As they continue to gravitate to digital and DTC, in these groundbreaking and innovative agreements we have the optionality we need.  As always, our North Star is being there for the fan and creating shareholder value.  We do that with innovation.  Technology is our heritage at ESPN and at The Walt Disney Company and being at the front edge of the viewer’s experience is baked into our mission.

 

“At the same time, at ESPN we know that a critical element of our success is ensuring a culture of inclusion – valuing different perspectives, voices and ideas – so that we can continue making great content that appeals to a diverse and growing audience.  It’s on every manager to create and cultivate an open, safe and caring environment, and we’re proud how leaders and employees alike are taking action and making a commitment to that kind of culture.” 

— Jimmy Pitaro, Chairman, ESPN and Sports Content

ESPN Highlights

Key statistics and developments that defined ESPN’s successes on a wide variety of fronts.

Linear Television Networks

Network-wide Viewership

  • The current quarter will be the 34th consecutive in which ESPN has been the No. 1 full-time basic cable network among Men 18-34 (starting in Q3 2013).
  • Looking at the streak in terms of years, ESPN has been 1 for at least 30 straight and also 22 consecutive in prime time among Men 18-34.  Also, ESPN2 is right behind ESPN among cable sports networks among M18-34; it has been #2 every year (once tied) since its 1993 launch.
  • This year will mark the 30th straight ESPN finishes No. 1 among Men 18-49.
  • ESPN will finish No. 1 among People 18-34 and 18-49 for the 12th straight year.
  • ESPN will be #1 in prime time among all key adult demos (P18-34, P18-49, P25-54) for an eighth straight year.

Sport-by-Sport Event Viewership

  • Through 13 weeks, Monday Night Football on ESPN networks is averaging 13.2M viewers, up 11% vs. the 2020 season-to-date and up 4% from the same point in 2019. It has been the most-watched telecast of the night on all 13 Mondays among households, viewers and all key demos: men 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54, as well as persons 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54.  ESPN has been the most-watched network all 13 weeks (broadcast and cable) in prime time among households, viewers and the same key male and people demos, plus P55+.
  • The NBA Playoffs averaged five million viewers across ESPN/ESPN2, up 35% year-over-year. The Finals were up 32% from the pandemic-shifted finals a year ago. ESPN/ABC aired 15 of the top 20 nationally televised games of the 2020-21 regular season.
  • ESPN’s 2021-22 NBA Opening Week averaged 1.82M viewers, the network’s most-viewed Opening Week since 2017. Celtics/Knicks averaged 1,955,000 viewers, the most-viewed ESPN Wednesday Opener since 2003. For the season to date (through December 6), the audience is up 25% vs. last season and up 4% from 2019.
  • ABC aired it most-viewed College Football Kickoff Weekend since 2017 and third best in the past decade. Clemson vs. Georgia (8.9M viewers) ranks as the second-most-viewed Kickoff Saturday game in the past 20 years (behind FSU/ALA in 2017). Meanwhile, Notre Dame vs. Florida State (7.8M viewers) ranks as the second-best Opening Week Sunday game on record.
  • College football across ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 averaged 1.98M viewers, up 19% from 2020 and up 2% from two years ago. For ABC, it was the best season since 2017, an average of more than four million viewers, up 25% from last year and up 2% from 2019.  The increase was led by Saturday Night Football, which averaged more than five million viewers, up 36% for the year and on par with 2019 and ‘18.
  • Sunday Night Baseball was up 18% overall, including up 25% among People 18-34.
  • ESPN’s MLB Wild Card game between the N.Y. Yankees and Boston Red Sox averaged 7.7M viewers and was the network’s most-viewed Wild Card contest of all time and the second-most-viewed Wild Card game of all time.
  • The NHL returned to ESPN networks after 17 years, and the opening-night doubleheader averaged 884K viewers, the top-performing ever and 54% better than 2019.
  • Combat Sports – boxing and MMA – continue to be a strong performer on both network television and ESPN+. The prelims for UFC 264 averaged 1.6M viewers on ESPN, the second-biggest prelim audience of all time (UFC 246).  Adding ESPN Deportes and ESPN+, it averaged 2.2M viewers, also trailing only UFC 246.  Also, ABC aired its first two live UFC events this year and a total of 25 original hours of UFC coverage, including UFC Countdown and UFC Live.
  • The 25th anniversary season of the WNBA saw double-digit growth in both the regular season and playoffs compared to 2020 and 2019. The regular season was the most-viewed since 2009, the playoffs were the most-viewed since 2014, and the finals were the most-viewed since 2017.
  • Historic storylines at tennis’ US Open led to an audience increase of 33% in prime time over the two weeks, culminating with big increases for the championship matches. The women’s final between unheralded teenagers Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez averaged 2.44M viewers, up 30% over last year.  The men’s final – with Novak Djokovic aiming for the Grand Slam and a record 21 Majors – was seen by an average of 2.05M viewers, an increase of 37%.
  • The 33 MLS matches on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 delivered an average audience of 273K viewers, a 17 percent increase compared to a year ago (39 matches).
  • The EURO 2020 audience was up over 30% from 2016. The Final ranks as the most-watched EURO match since 2008 and was up 43% from the 2016 Final.
  • The Formula One Grand Prix season is on track to be the most-viewed ever (topping the 1995 campaign on ESPN networks), averaging 938K viewers. The average is up double-digits from 2020 and 2019.
  • The Home Run Derby averaged 7.1M viewers, its most since 2017.
  • NCAA Championship Highlights
    • Most-viewed Women’s College World Series on record and best Softball Super Regionals since 2012.
    • Most-viewed Women’s Gymnastics Championship ever on ESPN networks.
    • Most-viewed Men’s and Women’s College Cups (soccer) ever.
    • Most-viewed Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament Championship Game since 2014 and best Final Four since 2012.
    • Most-viewed NCAA Hockey Championship since 2014.
    • Most-viewed Men’s College Lacrosse Championship since 2017.
  • Across ABC, ESPN and ESPN2, X Games Aspen averaged 600K viewers and July’s X Games 2021 averaged 471K viewers, both up double digits vs. the previous competition.
  • The Nathan’s Hot Dog Contest averaged 1.35M viewers on ESPN, up double-digits vs. 2020 and second-best since 2014 (behind 2019).

Studio Show Viewership

  • Pardon the Interruption at 5:30 p.m. ET is the most-watched daily sports news/studio show on television (626K P2+).
  • The midnight SportsCenter is the most-watched daily sports news/studio show on television among P18-34, P18-49, P25-54, M18-34 and M18-49.
  • ESPN airs the top nine most-watched daily sports news/studio shows on television (P2+) and 14 of the top 15.
  • College GameDay is the second most-watched sports news/studio show on cable (and was up 39% year over year) and Monday Night Countdown is #3 (up 26% vs. 2020 and up 10% over 2019).
  • In November, the following studio shows enjoyed their most-watched month in a very long time:
      • Get Up posted its most-watched month ever, averaging 433K viewers.
      • NFL Live had its most-watched month since December 2018 (35 months), with 430K viewers.
      • Around the Horn had its most-watched month since December 2019 (23 months), with 523K viewers.
      • First Take had its most-watched month since January 2020 (22 months), with 451K viewers.
      • SportsCenter at 1 a.m. ET had its most-watched month since January 2020 (22 months), with 541K viewers.
      • SportsCenter at 7 a.m. had its most-watched month since February 2020 (21 months), with 282K viewers.
      • Pardon the Interruption had its most-watched month since February 2020 (21 months) with 717K viewers.
      • SportsCenter at 6 p.m. had its most-watched month since December 2020 (11 months) with 501K viewers.

ESPN in the News

  • ACC Network will soon be added for Comcast’s Xfinity customers, as announced November 30, giving fans of the Atlantic Coast Conference access to the multiplatform network. The availability of ACCN is part of Comcast and The Walt Disney Company’s content carriage agreement renewal that will continue to make Disney’s programming available to Xfinity TV customers.  With the addition of Comcast, ACCN is now fully distributed with every major satellite, telco and digital provider across the country.
  • ESPN led all network groups with nine trophies at the Sports Emmys, including ESPN Deportes sweeping the three Spanish-language categories. ESPN’s long heritage of great storytelling was honored twice, for Blackfeet Boxing on ESPN+ and a Sunday NFL Countdown feature The Big Mo Show.  Also, ESPN’s enterprise journalism brands – such as SC Featured and E60 – continue to receive numerous accolades, including Murrow Awards, Gracies, NAMIC Vision Awards and more. 
  • The Last Dance won an NAACP Image Award as TV’s best documentary, one of nine awards garnered by the 2020 ratings phenomenon that went behind the scenes of the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls featuring Michael Jordan. Other awards included a Primetime Emmy, a TCA Award and a Critics Choice Real TV Award.

ESPN Films

  • In 2021, ESPN Films released “144” about the unprecedented 2020 WNBA season in the bubble; 30 for 30’s “Al Davis vs. the NFL” about one of the great rivalries in the history of the National Football League; “Breakaway” about WNBA superstar and activist Maya Moore; and “Once Upon a Time in Queens” about the 1986 Mets.

Direct to Consumer

  • ESPN+ grew 66% during the 2020-21 fiscal year and has more than 17.1 million subscribers (as of Oct. 2, 2021).  True to ESPN heritage, the innovative use of technology in developing ESPN+ reflects ESPN and Disney’s status as a world-class technology leader.
  • ESPN+ has the company poised for the growing importance of the digital pipeline. With an unlimited capacity to present live and on-demand events, studio shows and series, ESPN+ has greatly expanded the variety and volume of sports programming ESPN can deliver to fans.  Also, it has created a more direct relationship with them, building brand connection and affinity in a relatively short period of time, thanks to how it has resonated with fans.  ESPN+ also helps build a bridge to younger viewers, a goal of all rightsholders; indeed, half of its audience is under 35.  Key integrations of ESPN+ were completed on both the Hulu and Xfinity platforms.   
  • In addition to the recent major rights agreements mentioned above that help bring the annual total of live events to more than 20,000, thousands of hours of new studio and original programming in 2021 added to the terrific value proposition for fans. These include: Man in the Arena: Tom Brady, a 10-part series with the legendary quarterback giving a first-hand account of each of his 10 Super Bowl seasons; Stephen A’s World, the signature studio show in which host and executive producer Stephen A. Smith provides his entertaining perspective on sports stories that matter and interviews celebrities from sports, entertainment and beyond; SportsNation, a weekday morning look at sports highlights through the lens of social media, trending topics opinion and debate; expansions of the popular Peyton’s Places starring Peyton Manning via Abby’s Places with Abby Wambach (soccer) and Eli’s Places with Eli Manning (NFL); Turning Point, a weekly review of NFL action; Why Not Us, an inside look at HBCU sports, featuring a season with Florida A&M football and another with North Carolina Central basketball, executive produced by The Undefeated, Stephen A. Smith and NBA star Chris Paul; the seven-part, behind-the-scenes Quest for the Stanley Cup and more.
  • Combat Sports has become a tentpole property for DTC, driving subscriptions and retention, with major events available via ESPN+ PPV.
      • Seven of the 10 biggest-selling UFC PPVs ever on ESPN+ came in 2021, including the best, UFC 264. Also, seven of the 10 most-viewed UFC Fight Nights aired this year.  Overall, the category includes 12 UFC PPVs, 17 exclusive UFC Fight Nights, 35 Top Rank boxing events and this year ESPN aired The Ultimate Fighter for the first time.  
      • ESPN teamed with FOX Sports to present Fury vs. Wilder III world heavyweight championship on ESPN+ PPV and FOX Sports PPV. Also, the Crawford vs. Porter welterweight world championship was the first-ever exclusive ESPN+ PPV event for the ESPN/Top Rank partnership.

Digital

  • ESPN Digital, by far the world’s leading sports digital platform, has averaged 102.5 million unique visitors per month this year, 16% larger than No. 2 and up 12% from 2020.
  • ESPN Digital set a U.S. Sports category record of 120.0 million users in October, surpassing the previous record ESPN set in July of 118.6 million.
  • ESPN Digital’s streak of leading the U.S. sports category stretched for 40 consecutive months (March 2018 – June 2021).
  • The ESPN App continues to be the most popular sports app in the U.S. in terms of reach, 3.4 times larger than the No. 2 sports app and up +14% from 2020.
  • The ESPN App had its best month ever in October with 27.3 million unique visitors.
  • The ESPN Fantasy App continues to be the #1 fantasy sports app in the U.S. in terms of reach, 33% larger than No. 2.
  • ESPN’s digital content routinely averages a higher average minute audience than many cable sports television networks

Social Media

  • ESPN is the No. 1 sports media publisher for engagement on social platforms with 3.6B total actions across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and 25.1B video views across YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.
  • The 2021 NFL Draft was the most-watched live digital program in ESPN history. The three-day streaming event totaled 9M viewers (+41% from 2019; no streaming in 2020) and over 80M minutes of watch time (five times 2019).  The 1.3M views on YouTube for the first round is a platform record for an ESPN livestream.
  • Off-platform, the company has been innovative, using Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Snap. The company’s efforts were rewarded, as it continues to be the most engaging sports media company on social.  Highlights:
  • ESPN’s primary social media accounts (ESPN and SportsCenter) experienced increases in average social engagements per post across Instagram compared to 2020 (through October) (Instagram – +10%). On Instagram alone, the ESPN and SportsCenter accounts generated more than 2.1 billion total social engagements.
  • ESPN’s Digital Production team shattered audience records in 2021. On YouTube, ESPN has nearly doubled viewership with over 5.5B views and 12B minutes this year. The growth has been powered by the launch of SportsNation, which has reached 500M unique viewers, and the launch of several new digital live titles, including the daily Debatable and the NHL pregame show The Drop.
  • ESPN’s main TikTok account has surpassed 20M followers, the fastest for any ESPN account to achieve that milestone on any platform (3 years vs. 7-10 years). The account is a top five most-followed and engaged brand on the entire platform and over 60% of Gen-Z fans say ESPN TikTok is their most loved ESPN presence.
  • On Snapchat, ESPN reached 5M unduplicated viewers across all of its properties (Jan. – Sept.) while adding a daily afternoon SportsCenter, Undefeated On the Yard and College GameDay: All Access. Also, the Hoop Streams brand will expand into Snapchat starting in late December.
  • The most popular posts of the year by platform: InstagramThe Lakers and Pistons had to be separated multiple times after this play between LeBron and Isaiah Stewart (1.73M Social Engagements, 14.1M Video views), TwitterBrady and Mahomes playing in the Super Bowl (285K Social Engagements), Facebook: This one-legged high jumper will always be AMAZING 👏  (1.4M Social Engagements; 17M Video Views), and TikTok: @tonyhawk helping Sky Brown face her fear of going down the mega ramp 👏 (15.6M Likes, 108M Views).
  • ESPN hired BallerVisions founder Marcel (Celly) Chappell and acquires BallerVisions’ social channels –on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter – to expand its social and digital presence in the high school landscape.

Audio

ESPN Radio

  • ESPN Radio, the nation’s largest sports network which celebrates its 30th anniversary on January 1, 2022, once again brought listeners an unmatched schedule of live events throughout the year. The network marked its 24th consecutive year of bringing fans every pitch of the MLB Postseason, as well as every game of the NBA Playoffs and Finals, the College Football Playoff semifinals and National Championship, the NFL Draft, NBA Draft and more, totaling more than 220 events.
  • This year saw the network’s already strong weekday lineup further expand, offering expert analysis and insight during key windows throughout the day while regularly welcoming top-level and news-making guests.
    • Keyshawn, JWill & Max and Greeny most recently led ESPN Radio to a strong start in the fall ratings book with year-over-year audience increases of 19 and 28 percent, respectively, across all platforms combined in October.
    • Super Bowl Champion Chris Canty (paired with Mike Golic Jr.), Pro Bowl linebacker Bart Scott and Emmy-winning broadcaster Alan Hahn became staples in the daily talk radio lineup with their shows Canty and Golic Jr. and Bart and Hahn.

ESPN Podcasts

  • Monthly records for listenership were set by Fantasy Focus Football, The Lowe Post and The Right Time with Bomani Jones.
  • Reflective of their popularity, two shows expanded. The Right Time with Bomani Jones increased from two shows per week to three and added video, resulting in a record-setting unique audience in October.  The College Football Podcast expanded from two times per week to five and added top college football voices to the roster, resulting in a 248 percent year-over-year increase in unique audience growth (per Podtrac).
  • Several new shows debuted – Bald Men on Campus, Black History Always, Daily Wager, DC & RC, First Take Her Take, In the Crease – The ESPN NHL Podcast, Organized Chaos, Swagu & Perk and The King of Crenshaw (30 for 30 podcast).
  • These shows brought a wide variety of new, diverse and industry-leading voices to the platform: Charly Arnolt, Matt Barrie, Jay Bilas, Ryan Clark, Linda Cohn, Rece Davis, Elle Duncan, LaPhonso Ellis, Paul Finebaum, Joe Fortenbaugh, Domonique Foxworth, Tyler Fulghum, Joey Galloway, Seth Greenberg, Emily Kaplan, Anita Marks, Kimberley A. Martin, Booger McFarland, Chiney Ogwumike, Kendrick Perkins, Rex Ryan, Bart Scott, Marcus Spears, Justin Tinsley and Clinton Yates.

Key Initiatives

DEI – Innovation – The Undefeated – espnW – Corporate Citizenship – Owned Events

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion -- in Programming across Platforms and within the Company

  • At The Walt Disney Company, it is vitally important to attract and develop a diverse pool of talent so the workforce reflects the diversity of the world in which we live and do business. In addition, it is then imperative to foster a workplace where everyone feels engaged and free to contribute to the creative process.  ESPN’s ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion includes talent recruiting, retention and development efforts that prioritize the cultivation of a strong, diverse and thriving workforce. 
  • ESPN implemented required training and Inclusive Leader Assessments: an Inclusion & Belonging @ ESPN workshop, a follow-up DEI Toolkit and an Inclusion i360 assessment. Virtually 100% of people managers have completed the workshop along with more than half of individual contributors with more sessions scheduled. The toolkit offers tips to support inclusion with tips on hosting inclusive meetings and tips on allyship.  It also contains an inclusive calendar that highlights significant dates many may not be aware of but that teammates may celebrate. Additionally, almost all VPs/above, including Jimmy Pitaro’s direct reports and their reports, have gone through the i360, which reliably identifies a leader’s specific strengths and weaknesses around inclusion. By the end of 2021, over 100 leaders will have gone through the assessment and had a debrief session with a coach.
  • ESPN champions nine Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and four Affinity Groups – voluntary, employee-led groups formed around shared identity, interests, and pursuits with 2000 members strong across ESPN. The ERGs include Emerging Leaders (Early Career Professionals), ESPN SALUTE, (Veterans), ESPN Women, ESPN ARISE (Asians and Pacific Islanders). ENABLED (people with disabilities), SOMOS (Hispanic/Latinx), ESPN Families, PULSE (Black and African Americans) and EQUAL (LGBTQIA+ employees). The Affinity Groups are the Multicultural Women’s Network, T.R.U.S.T., (mental health), YBI (Young Black Idea) and the ESPN Executive Women’s Forum.  In addition, employees are free to participate in Disney-wide communities like SHALOM, Salam, and the Native American/Indigenous Business Employee Group.
  • This fall, ESPN launched an effort to improve gender equality in online coverage, with a rebrand across ESPN.com and the ESPN App in the women’s digital space. This effort is a continued priority for the Stats & Information Group (SIG), with many teams helping on the initiative. Fans can now find what they want readily available within the walls of ESPN, keeping them informed and engaged directly within our products, with the coverage only ESPN can deliver.  Paired with world-class streaming, editorial and live-game experience, ESPN is the pre-eminent digital destination for WNBA and women’s college basketball fans.
  • ESPN launches ESPN+ MAS, a new section of ESPN+ with content for, and about, Hispanic and LatinX athletes and fans. It includes more than 1,300 live events, 100 30 for 30 documentary titles and at least 1,000 hours of studio shows.
  • ESPN and the Central Intercollegiate Athletics Association (CIAA) announced a multi-year, multi-platform media rights agreement, enhancing ESPN’s college sports portfolio and coverage of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) with the addition of the conference’s men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. ESPNU will carry both the Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championship Games; all 22 games of both tournaments will be available on an ESPN platform.

Innovation

  • In September, ESPN announced the ESPN Edge Innovation Center and the three founding partners, global professional services and innovation company Accenture; Microsoft, a leader in engineering and digital technology; and Verizon, one of the world’s leading providers of 5G technology. The aim is to collaborate with other leaders in technology and with Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution (DMED) to explore how new technologies like 5G, Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) and mobile edge computing (MEC) can enable new ways for fans to experience sports. The ESPN Edge Innovation Center will include key partnerships in the categories of technology, consulting, connectivity and hardware. 
  • Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli (aka, the “ManningCast”) debuted on ESPN2 as a complement to the traditional MNF telecast with former quarterback greats Peyton and Eli Manning. An instant hit, reaching as many as an average of nearly two million viewers, the duo watches the game and talks football with guests ranging from celebrities and sports stars from the NFL and other sports. To date, it has registered the seven biggest audiences ever for an ESPN alternate telecast (since 2014).
  • In addition to Peyton and Eli, creative use of alternate telecasts as a way to grow the audience continues to be a focus, ever since the 2014 BCS Championship. In MLB, “StatCast” alternate telecasts, which debuted in 2018, were produced twice for Sunday Night Baseball, for the Home Run Derby and a Wild Card game.  In a first, two NFL games this year – the Wild Card game in January and the MNF opener in September – were supplemented by an analytics and betting-focused discussion show alongside the traditional telecast.  In April, the same approach was used for an NBA contest.  In August, as was first done during the 2019 Little League World Series, a Sunday Night Baseball game was accompanied by a “KidsCast” on ESPN2.  The telecast featured young aspiring sportscasters including former LLWS star  Mo’ne Davis.  An NBA game in May was paired with Marvel’s Arena of Heroes on ESPN2 which weaved elements of an original Marvel story and characters into the live action with 3-D virtual characters, animation packages and customized graphics.
  • In October, MNF debuted the Line-to-Gain-Virtual-Plane on a pyloncam at a critical goaline play in the last minute of the Buffalo-Tennessee game.

The Undefeated

  • Over the last five years, The Undefeated has enjoyed incredible growth, driven by the tremendous work done by the stellar team. Today, The Undefeated is the premier multimedia platform for exploring the intersections of race, sports and culture, as well as fashion, music, and the arts, and poised for further expansion within Disney.  From a compelling website to best-selling children’s books, to music albums, to powerful television documentaries, to identifying and developing fresh voices that appear on every ESPN screen, the Undefeated has claimed the clear high ground in thought leadership that has served fans and ESPN so well. The Undefeated’s unique insights, voices and evolving storytelling have served as a model for how ESPN can reach fans in new ways. 
  • In 2021, ESPN’s race, sports and culture platform forged ahead with multi-dimensional storytelling about the Black experience
  • The Undefeated powered and led the January launch of ESPN’s Black History Always, a companywide content commitment to produce and highlight Black stories beyond the traditional Black History Month of February.
  • The Undefeated partnered with ESPN+ to launch The Undefeated on ESPN+ in February, a year-round home on the industry-leading sports streaming service for stories at the intersection of sports and the Black experience. The Undefeated on ESPN+ is the exclusive home for the “Black History Always Specials,” a series of new, original short films available on the 29th of each month. A Love Letter to Black Women kicked off the series in March. Other titles included I Run with Maud: A Promise. A Movement (October), Long Live Seven: The Bryce ‘Simba’ Gowdy’s Story narrated by Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (November) and more.
  • The Undefeated on ESPN+ debuted Why Not Us – an eight-part, all-access docuseries that captured the distinct culture, experiences, and challenges of an HBCU athletic program through the coaches and student-athletes’ eyes. The first season, Why Not Us: North Carolina Central University Men’s Basketball premiered in February, followed by Why Not Us: Florida A&M University Football in October.
  • Online, TheUndefeated,com featured the industry’s most comprehensive coverage of sports and student life at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Highlights include Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders coaching the Jackson State Tigers; The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings and profiles; the fifth class of the Rhoden Fellows; and more. Additionally, The Undefeated commissioned and published enterprise projects such as the definitive profile of Anderson Paak’s family, the high school basketball team that took a knee in Oklahoma, America’s homicide crisis, commentary on the firing of Raiders coach Jon Gruden and more.
  • Projects across The Walt Disney Company further established The Undefeated as a multi-platform unit for Black stories:
      • Two television specials in February – The March on Washington: Keepers of the Dream on National Geographic and available next day on Hulu, and A Room of Our Own on ESPN.
      • An ESPN 30 for 30 podcast The King of Crenshaw in August examined rapper Nipsey Hussle’s impact on the sports world.
      • The Undefeated and Disney Music Group Hollywood Records released two volumes of Music For The Movement featuring old songs reimagined by young artists from this generation. Volume II, Black History Always, was released in February, and Volume III Liberated was released in June.

espnW

  • Throughout the year, espnW.com showcased and supported big events and cultural moments, including the WNBA’s 25th season with a look at 25 milestones; a Cover Story (a multi-platform, in-depth journalism franchise) on Layshia Clarendon of the Minnesota Lynx, the league’s first openly non-binary player; an examination of the league’s financial outlook; and coverage of the Tokyo Olympics with pieces such as profiles of Diana Taurasi, Suni Lee and Rose Lavelle.
  • Throughout the year, espnW.com showcased and supported big events and cultural moments, including the WNBA’s 25th season with a look at 25 milestones, a Cover Story on Layshia Clarendon, an examination of the league’s financial outlook and coverage of the Tokyo Olympics with pieces such as profiles of Diana Taurasi, Suni Lee and Rose Lavelle.
  • espnW continues to grow on social platforms, with its social handles growing 30% year over year, now up to 1.3M total followers.
  • The 12th annual espnW: Women + Sports Summit returned to an in-person format in October at The Lodge at Torrey Pines and was livestreamed for a virtual audience. Speakers included Halle Berry, Sarah McLachlan, Gabby Thomas, April Ross, Nicole Lynn, and more. The Summit had approximately 200 attendees on-site, 187,810 total views across platforms (+14% from 2020), 475,403 total minutes watched (+11% from 2020), and over 432M potential impressions on social.

Corporate Citizenship

  • This year, as announced in 2020, ESPN devoted 60% of its youth sports grants to Black and African American communities, for a total of over $1 million.
  • ESPN launched the Return to Play Fund, which was created to support and inspire Black and Brown youth who have been challenged the most during the pandemic. The fund will use sports to center health, wellbeing and systemic solutions to the heart of community recovery across the United States.
  • ESPN continues to fundraise for the V Foundation, raising over $15 million for cancer research in fiscal year 2021. Overall, ESPN has raised over has raised over $142 million for the V Foundation.
  • To help fight the Covid-19 pandemic, and together with the CDC and Ad Council, ESPN ran a series of PSAs across its platforms encouraging sports fans to get the vaccination. Additionally, ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn. served as a vaccination site for the surrounding community.

Owned Events

  • Hosted by actor Anthony Mackie, The ESPYS returned to an in-person ceremony in New York City. The show honored the return to sports, as well as inspiring stories of service and perseverance from the sports world.
  • Aspen, Colo., hosted the X Games Aspen for a 20th consecutive year while the summer event returned after a year away and was held at sites in southern California, albeit without fans. Across ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC there were double-digit viewership increases, and usage on @XGames social and digital media enjoyed triple-digit growth.  In December, the first-ever X Games in Japan were announced, to be held in Chiba in April 2022 with Skateboard, BMX and Moto X competitions over three days at ZOZO Marine Stadium.
  • ESPN Events debuted new events in 2021, the Boeing Red Tails Classic college football game in August honoring Tuskegee Airmen, and December’s Wasabi Fenway Bowl in Boston, while returning to a full 18-game college bowl schedule. The annual season-opening State Farm Champions Classic basketball doubleheader featuring Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State was also renewed through 2025.

 

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Media Contact: Dave Nagle ([email protected])

 

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