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ESPN Fields Major Sports Research Initiative

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The 2010 FIFA World Cup will be a proving ground of sorts for ESPN, which will launch an ambitious research effort in conjunction with the month-long international soccer tournament.

The network has unveiled ESPN XP, a multi-partner initiative designed to study consumer behavior as it relates to consumption of major sporting events across various media platforms. Joining ESPN in the effort are the Nielsen Co., Knowledge Networks, the Media Behavior Institute, the Keller Fay Group and the Wharton School’s Interactive Media Initiative.

While reminiscent of NBC Universal’s TAMi (Total Audience Measurement index) project, ESPN XP looks to examine consumer behavior across all media, including TV, Internet, mobile, radio and print. (Launched concurrently with NBCU’s coverage of the 2008 Summer Olympics, TAMi layered online video impressions atop Nielsen-measured linear TV ratings, while sprinkling mobile and video-on-demand usage data atop the two larger subsets.)

ESPN svp, research and analytics Artie Bulgrin said XP is the most ambitious initiative of its kind, as it will attempt to measure all media platforms around a single event. “This represents a major step forward in our commitment to further advance the knowledge about multimedia use and the impact it has on our clients’ media campaigns,” Bulgrin said. “With ESPN XP, we’re going to increase the intensity of our work. There’s going to be a much higher level of financial and intellectual investment on our part.”

The various collaborations between ESPN and its third-party research partners will line up a number of industry firsts. For instance, ESPN has signed on as the first commercial client for Nielsen’s Life360, a mobile platform that delivers consumer insights via 250 electronic diaries.

“Our hope is that insights derived from measuring major media events, particularly in live sports and across all media, will help advertisers and programmers make smarter decisions to grow their businesses in the years ahead,” said Howard Shimmel, Nielsen svp, client insights.

As with any team effort, each researcher will play a unique position. Nielsen will handle all linear television ratings, while the company’s Nielsen Online unit will pitch in to help assess cross-platform behavior as it pertains to TV and Internet usage, via data derived from a panel of more than 10,000 consumers. Midfielder Keller Fay will measure patterns in word-of-mouth surrounding the sponsor brands, with an eye toward discerning tonal and volume shifts as the tournament progresses.

“There is a powerful link between advertising and word-of-mouth, and that advertising sparks millions of consumer conversations. We also know that soccer fans in the U.S. index very high as word of mouth influencers,” said Keller Fay Group CEO Ed Keller. “We look forward to working with the ESPN XP team to expand our learning and help advertisers to more fully understand how they can drive brand advocacy via sports sponsorship.”  

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