ESPN took over Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre, home of majority owner Disney’s The Lion King, for its Upfront presentation this morning, where the themes were bringing the Great Uncounted into the audience-measurement fold, and “the universal power of live.”
“It’s not enough to simply say we’re ubiquitous,” Ed Erhardt, ESPN President, global sales and marketing, told the packed house. “That’s why we’re investing in measuring the unmeasured. To give you more confidence. Confidence in a world of viewability concerns and commercial clutter.”
Viewability at the session was guaranteed by Erhardt’s lead-in, a cut-to-order rap by Hamilton co-stars and Tony nominees Leslie Odom Jr. and Daveed Diggs (who play Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson, respectively). ESPN prepped a version of the rap that you can watch above. They rapped:
Why let the sky be your limit / Ain’t there somethin’ higher, baby? / Every child dreams of flight / Understand my team fights for me / The stage is all set for us to take flight…
“Live performance, like sports, makes our hearts beat faster,” Erhardt said when the four-minute performance was over. “This is the universal power of live. It causes all of us to reconsider things we thought we knew. [Hamilton] has been called revolutionary. And it has caused ongoing debate about what is and is not working. That’s why its time to challenge, rethink and reconsider how we market, how we measure, how we engage our customers. ESPN embraces this revolution.”
ESPN also used the event to introduce new members of its team in the wake of several months of tumultuous change that has seen the departures of Skip Bayless, Curt Schilling and Mike Tirico. On hand were Sean McDonough, replacing Tirico in the play-by-play slot on Monday Night Football; adding to the star power were appearances by Green Bay Packers quarterback and Hall of Famer Brett Favre, Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, ponytailed New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard and L.A. Clippers point guard Chris Paul.
As is customary at these events, talent was also on hand to deflate some of the hot-air ballooning in the overall presentation. That duty fell to SportsCenter anchor Kenny Mayne, who appeared from a trap door in the stage initially just from his chest up, calling himself “the 49%.”
“The truth is, the executives sent me my marching orders on Snapchat but it disappeared before I could read it,” he said, taking aim right away at the uncounted audience meme. “Are you still buying that bullshit [Wendell] Scott [Senior VP Multimedia Sales] was talking about the 18-34 year old males being the only demographic? My daughters aren’t male, they’re not 18, but I’m a human ATM for them and they’re buying a lot of the crap you people are selling,” he continued, drawing vigorous laughter from the crowd. “The thing is, the audience numbers aren’t even fair to ESPN…Anywhere dozens or hundreds! of people gather to watch sports and the advertising that rui…complements and enhances it, these numbers aren’t counted when it comes to counting up audience.”
Disney chairman Bob Iger was in the audience, though one couldn’t tell whether he was laughing with the rest of the crowd. But with such choice upcoming presentations as OJ: Made In America, its already much-praised O.J. Simpson documentary, and another, Doc and Darryl, about fallen Mets legends Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, along with today’s launch of ESPN’s new website The Undefeated, ubiquitous may not have been too strong a word.
The show closed with the reappearance of the Hamilton stars Odom and Diggs, accompanying guitarist Arlen Roth.
Here is ESPN’s release describing The Undefeated, its new digital content platform exploring the intersection of sports, race and culture:
Today – the 62nd anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision – ESPN has launched The Undefeated, the digital content platform exploring the intersection of sports, race and culture.
TheUndefeated.com will combine innovative long-form and short-form storytelling, original reporting and provocative commentary to enlighten and entertain African Americans, as well as sports fans seeking a deeper understanding of black athletes, culture and related issues. It launched with a commentary “We Are The Undefeated” by editor-in-chief Kevin Merida – a declaration of its manifesto.
The Undefeated is launching with three narratives that represent its long-form storytelling ambition:
The Waco Horror: Approximately 100 years ago to the date – May 15, 1916 to be exact – 19-year-old farmhand Jesse Washington was lynched in Waco, Texas. The Undefeated senior writer Jesse Washington (no relation) tells how a mob of 10,000 spectators watched the dismemberment of the charred remains of their lynching victim. And how photos from the sickening spectacle galvanized the national campaign against lynching. In a poignant first-person account, Washington relays his personal connections revisiting the scene of the lynching, meeting with the descendants and draws parallels to today;
36 Hours in Beast Mode: Senior writer Lonnae O’Neal returned to Oakland, Calif., for an in-depth profile of the taciturn and newly retired Seattle Seahawk Marshawn Lynch. Told through the insight from a number of Lynch’s cousins, the piece captures the larger meaning and impact of Beast Mode in a community in search of a rebirth;
The man who put Marvel in the black: A profile of Nate Moore, one of the few African American producers at Marvel – one of the world’s most prominent character-based entertainment companies. With the release of Captain America: Civil War and the emergence of the Black Panther character, portrayed by actor Chad Boseman, The Undefeated’s Kelley Carter profiles Moore about bringing diversity to one of Hollywood’s marquee film series. Moore is responsible for including the Black Panther character in the series.
The Undefeated is inspired by a passage from American poet, author and civil rights leader Maya Angelou: “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
The Mission Statement:
“The Undefeated is the premier platform for exploring the intersections of race, sports and culture. We enlighten and entertain with innovative storytelling, original reporting and provocative commentary. Not conventional. Never boring.”
The Undefeated will showcase content under four primary verticals – Sports, Culture, The Uplift and HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). The Uplift will feature a daily stream of multimedia – written text, photo, audio, video, et al – joy, inspiration, acts of heroism, pro athletes’ community service, short profiles of younger athletes on the rise, and some of the most memorable moments in sports and culture.
On HBCUs, the platform will serve as a leading source for those interested in the black college experience through the prism of sports. The HBCU subset of the site will include a weekly ranking of bands, writing opportunities for young African Americans through the development of a network of college correspondents, a behind-the-scenes look at an HBCU football program, muck like HBO “Hard Knocks,” and more.
Other short-form offerings:
All Day: a daily blog with The Undefeated slant by Clinton Yates, giving the reader a unique perspective on the topline news of the day across different genre;
Quote/Unquote: a daily series of shareable quotes with contextual information on when it was uttered, who said them and how it relates to current events;
Cover Stories: the back story behind an iconic cover (magazine, album, et al) with historical context of the time;
The Picture of Undefeated: a photographic look at the most Undefeated images of the past 24 weeks curated into a gallery.
Beyond the recurring content available on the site, The Undefeated will be the home for ESPN’s popular His and Hers podcast with commentators Michael Smith and Jemele Hill. The digital hub will also serve as the digital home for the ESPN Films Spike Lee’s Lil’ Joints – a series of short films showcasing narratives featuring mostly African American stories that are not widely known and personally curated by award-winning producer and director Spike Lee.
The Undefeated will be a thought-leader on race, sports and culture in the country. It will convene forums to discuss and debate topical issues affecting sports and race in America.