Special report: How ESPN are growing digitally across the globe

June 22, 2016

The way brands target different demographics is constantly changing with a plethora of social media channels and platforms through which audiences can consume products.

This is an interesting area for ESPN, specifically when you look at what they offer in terms of content to the EMEA market.

Obviously in America ESPN has a large TV arm with multiple channels broadcasting content, as well as online/mobile video streaming.

Across EMEA it’s TV arm is much smaller, which leads to more focus on the digital side.

iSportconnect spoke to Charly Classen, VP and General Manager of ESPN for EMEA.

iSC – What would you define as ESPN’s role across EMEA – is it a lot more digital focused?

CC“It’s very hard these days to draw a linear line separating TV and digital; consumers consider ESPN as a wide brand that connects them to sport. We bring the joy of sport to the fans – whether that’s through our TV channel or through digital content.”

“We use our ESPN FC show on our TV channels and also use clips from that on our digital channels and website. You can say we are doing activity to drive digital, but actually, we are doing something much, much wider.”

“One of the great things at the moment is that we are working with social influencers and that it’s a very much video-led activity associated with the ESPN brand. Whether the consumer takes things from our website or via TV, we really don’t mind.”


iSC – What are your main target audiences in Europe and what services do you offer them?

CC“Our very strong focal point is English language speaking language – we don’t have local language versions in Germany or France. So traffic in the UK is much stronger – we have quite a strong following across Europe, especially with our NBA coverage from the NBA finals and our Spanish content in Spain and Portuguese content as well.”

“We have three main business lines – the digital side is one of them, which is growing nicely and we’re bullish about where that is going. We also have the media distribution business, which is representing our rights and third party rights.”

“That business has grown tremendously over the last few years – we see this as a real growth area of the business for us. Our third-area is the business we do with BT Sport in the UK, which is for the long-term, and that has given us a lot of confidence and helped us look at new ways of doing business in different areas.”


iSC – Obviously the European Championships are currently taking place, what content are you producing for that and how challenging is it to come up with original and engaging content for a widespread audience?

CC “We’re really excited by what we’re doing at the Euros. We’ve produced an enormous amount of quantity around the Euros, from the TV coverage in the US, we’ve got fan bloggers from all the teams, not just the analysis but all of the context around it.”

“The depth and breadth of what we do is astonishing. Our challenge as a sports media company is to make sure as many people as possible see this content and get different demographics to see the content.”

iSC – As part of your work around the Euros you are working with ‘Social influencers’, what was behind that decision and how is that complementing the ESPN brand-message?

CC“Working with social influencers like KSI, Manny and Calfreezy is a great thing to do to compliment and amplify our content. Last week we had 1 and a half million views to the ESPN brand through their social channels. It’s not just about watching those clips, it’s about accessing all of our content, whether it’s an article, the lots of other content which supplements our news. The social influences compliment what we do.”

“It’s really important we stay true to the brand, all the feedback I’ve had is that the talent embraced doing it because it’s them doing what they do in a natural way, we fit them in with us and do what is right for us. We wouldn’t get our editorial team trying to do something that KSI does for example – it’s about representing who you are. We’re working with Copa90 and people like that. It’s about seeing what works and what is really effective, not just from a content perspective but a viewership perspective – it’s an ongoing learning experience.”


iSC – You work with BT Sport with a co-branded TV channel in the UK, how does that work?

CC “We work with BT Sport a lot as you can imagine. We’re in the fourth year of the partnership, we have ESPN on BT Sport so we have added an element of the BT branding into the channel. But the channel has a very strong ESPN identity and we’ve done a lot of work on that collaboratively and you can see how that works well with our digital identity. We want to make sure BT Sport gets the most value from it.”

“One of the things we’ve found is that people valued the BT Sport channel with the ESPN channel but most people didn’t always know they were getting the ESPN channel with the BT Sport bundle. So we worked hard not only on the branding of the channel but the promos on air.”

“Having the goals show of the Champions League on the ESPN complements the live-game coverage on the other BT Sport channels – it’s a very collaborative e effort, in fact, we’re screening the documentary OJ Simpson: Made in America which debuted in the US a few weeks ago to rave reviews; we’re doing a screening with BT Sport in a few weeks’ time and they will debut it July I believe. It’s about great storytelling and providing great content, that’s what we do with our ESPN films and we get different demographics to view that content.”

“We’ve got a long-term relationship with BT and we’re delighted with the partnership. In the digital side, we run things by ourselves and we’re happy where we are.”


CharlyImageCharly Classen is Vice President and General Manager, ESPN – Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), a role he has held since January 2014.  He is responsible for the strategic guidance, development and oversight for all of ESPN’s business and operations in the region – including digital media, television syndication, as well as the company’s relationship with BT Sports (who operate an ESPN-branded TV channel).

He also is responsible for identifying and developing new business opportunities in the region, whether through organic growth, acquisition or partnership.

Based in London, Classen works closely with ESPN executive management and with the company’s global syndication, sales and digital media teams in developing best-of-breed content, businesses and sales and marketing solutions.

Charly’s isportconnect-profile-widget