The blitz, which features TV spots and digital pieces with emerging rapper Chika, kicked off Sunday night during the American Music Awards telecast on ABC.
Disney-owned ESPN is touting its app as part of an overall strategic shift toward digital and streaming. The company said earlier this month that streaming service ESPN+ has reached 10.3 million subscribers, triple its level from a year ago. ESPN+ has benefited from a bundle with Disney+ and Hulu, but executives are increasingly looking for opportunities to put premium live sports in the pay streaming offering. Select digital content, including text-based features and analysis previously offered for free, has also shifted behind the pay wall for ESPN+ subscribers.
The moves also come as the company reduces staff and expenses in response to COVID-19 and other challenges. ESPN said a few weeks ago it was eliminating 500 positions, many of them traditional broadcast roles. Rival sports media brands like Fox Sports and WarnerMedia’s Bleacher Report are no less challenged in this operating environment, but they have also recently retooled their apps and streaming offerings.
In a press release, ESPN VP of Brand Marketing Seth Ader called the ESPN app “the gateway to everything we have to offer, including ESPN+.” The recently redesigned app has drawn 244% more unique visitors and 98% more minutes than its next closest competitor, the company said, citing recent comScore figures. Competition varies month by month, but generally the NFL mobile app is the closest rival for unique visitors and Yahoo’s fantasy sports app for minutes of use.
ESPN has topped the comScore rankings for unique visitors for 32 straight months, peaking in January with a category record of 117.4 million, up 16% over the same period a year earlier.
September was ESPN’s best streaming month ever, the company said, citing Adobe Analytics. Total unique devices reached by the app and time spent viewing were both up 15% compared with September 2019. The company credited the growth to the upswing for ESPN+, which first launched in 2018, and a rise in the number of devices owned by pay-TV subscribers who use them to watch ESPN, a metric that increased 26% in September.
While autumn is always a peak time for sports fans, with the arrival of college and pro football as well as the Major League Baseball playoffs, this year took on a new intensity due to the coronavirus. The NBA playoffs, an annual fixture on ESPN, were contested in September and October this year due to the pandemic.