ESPN busts up the ad clutter with 'Basketball: A Love Story'

  • 12/10/2018
Filmmaker Dan Klores crams a whole lot of hoops lore in his 20-hour documentary "Basketball: A Love Story," but fans of the game won't have to sit through an unwieldy amount of commercials when they hunker down with this fast-moving, eye-opening series.

ESPN has trimmed the fat from the "Basketball: A Love Story" commercial load, limiting its sponsor roster to just three marquee brands. Presented with limited interruptions, the five-part docuseries is backed by blue-chippers Geico, Nike and Metro by T-Mobile, the prepaid wireless brand formerly known as MetroPCS.

While primetime TV is basically a full-court press of commercial messaging, "Basketball: A Love Story" effectively calls off the marketing dogs. According to Wendell Scott, ESPN's Senior VP of Multimedia Sales, each two-hour installment of "Basketball" will feature as few as four ad breaks, but no more than six, a marked reduction from the standard eight-pod structure the network uses for similar programming initiatives.

Naturally, the ad breaks in ESPN's sports coverage are far more frequent and vigorous; per Nielsen estimates, the network's scripted and studio programming carry about 30 percent of the load found in a live game. For example, the network's "Monday Night Football" telecasts are peppered with 20 breaks per game, with 10 in-game commercial pods appearing in each half of action.

"Game action and game breaks often influence how we manage commercial inventory in live events," Scott says. "Scripted programming gives us a little more flexibility to try new formats, and given the unique presentation of 'Basketball: A Love Story,' with its 62 vignettes, this was a perfect opportunity to mix things up a bit with our sponsors."

Except for a standard slate of in-house ESPN promos, the commercial breaks that air in "Basketball" will be devoted exclusively to the aforementioned three brands. (One minute of local advertising breaks will appear in each half-hour.)

T-Mobile is using the "Basketball" tipoff to help promote the rebranding of its prepaid wireless service. The carrier's new creative features ESPN basketball reporter Adrian "Woj" Wojnarowski in a mockumentary-style set-up that highlights the speed and reliability of the service. "I need Metro by T-Mobile because breaking news is my life," Wojnarowski intones in one 30-second spot, before he's seen erasing a key portion of a co-worker's whiteboard presentation in order to jot down notes on a big NBA trade.

The Wojnarowski spots close out with a shot of the service's new logo and tag line ("That's Genius!"). The lead-off "Competition" spot debuted during last night's four-hour "Basketball" premiere; the ads were developed in conjunction with ESPN's in-house agency, CreativeWorks.

While Nike was rather vague about its "Basketball" game plan, it's likely that the apparel powerhouse will look to launch a few new hoops-themed spots designed to draft on the success of its popular "Dream Crazy" campaign. For its part, Geico has three recently spawned 30-second ads to run during the docuseries if it so desires; "Arm Wrestling and Basketball Champion," "The Gecko Sells an Apartment" and "An Unexpected Lawn-Mowing Win" made their national TV debuts on Oct. 1. (Geico's flood-the-zone brand strategy presents it with a good deal of options; per estimates, the insurance company currently has more than two dozen spots in circulation.)

The second installment of "Basketball: A Love Story" bows Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. The series will continue to examine America's love affair with hoops for the following three weeks, with each new batch of episodes slated to air on successive Tuesday nights.
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