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ESPN Moves Into Social Gaming

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A push into social gaming, an ESPN Deportes show modeled after SportsNation and new iPhone apps -- those were some key news nuggets from the ESPN upfront presentation in New York, Tuesday morning.

The event once again took place at Nokia Theater in Times Square, but instead of it being hosted by the SportsCenter team as in recent years, SportsNation anchors Colin Cowherd and Michelle Beadle served as hosts. Their ESPN2 show had been unveiled at the sports powerhouse's upfront last year.

In addition to such execs as ESPN and ABC Sports president George Bodenheimer, executive vp content John Skipper and Ed Erhardt, president customer marketing and sales, Robert Iger, CEO of parent company Walt Disney was also in attendance.

Guest appearances included NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon, Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden and University of South Carolina mascot Cocky.

Key themes that speakers highlighted in front of the advertiser crowd Tuesday included ESPN's focus on 3D, social media and other technologies, the continuing growth of ESPNU, ESPN's long-term commitment to soccer and plans to include sports science into coverage more regularly.

Serving the sports fan is key to serving ad partners, Erhardt emphasized. "The future for us is the fan experience, is the live experience," he said. And the rise of social media plays to ESPN's strength as it is "an amplifier for passion and engagement."

One of the increasingly popular digital ad methods highlighted Tuesday are ESPN.com homepage takeovers, which movie studios have used. ESPN executives mentioned the recent "Avatar" home video release as an example of a big campaign.

Here a look at some of the news announcements from the ESPN upfront:

• ESPN Interactive has struck a two-year deal with social gaming firm Playdom to develop ESPN-branded sports games for the two companies' respective sites, as well as social media platforms, including Facebook, MySpace and Bebo. The first two in development are slated to launch this fall. Games will have in-game ESPN brand integrations.

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