Wieden + Kennedy Goes with ESPN Competitor Fox Sports After Two and a Half Decades

By Erik Oster 

Fox Sports has appointed Wieden + Kennedy as its first agency of record, with W+K New York handling the assignment. There was no review, and we hear the partnership stemmed from a series of conversations regarding Fox Sports’ desire to expand its marketing budget.

This news comes after the end of W+K New York’s 25-year relationship with ESPN, for which its continuous “This is SportsCenter” effort was one of the most consistent campaigns in advertising.

The last time we checked in with that one was with the salute to the Cubs’ World Series win, “Counter.”

“This is an opportunity for real partnership, with a brand whose culture is rich and inspiring,”  W+K New York managing director Neal Arthur said in a statement. “ESPN was a defining client for Wieden + Kennedy New York and our entire network. We wish them the best.”

A spokesperson for ESPN told Adweek that the network will not launch a creative review, but rather will work with multiple agencies on a project basis, including in-house shop CreativeWorks, R/GA and 72andSunny.

In recent years, ESPN has reduced its marketing spending and divided the work between these agencies and W+K. In 2015, 72andSunny began advertising SportsCenter at Night separately from W+K’s “This is SportsCenter” campaign with an effort featuring the Washington Nationals’ mascots. The previous year, 72andSunny worked on a campaign promoting ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown. Its more recent work for SportsCenter at Night includes this spot from last July featuring David Ortiz discussing possible post-retirement plans. Earlier this month, R/GA launched “Turn Down for NBA Saturday Primetime” with Lil Jon.

Wieden’s work as Fox Sports’ first agency partner will cover all of its properties including its daily shows. The first campaigns will concern the 2018 World Cup in Donald Trump’s favorite country, Russia.

The respective sizes of the accounts aren’t clear at the moment, but Kantar Media’s paid numbers for Fox Sports are about 1/3 the size of ESPN’s. Several recent reports have questioned the validity of ESPN’s business model in the cord-cutting era, and just this week Fox got into a PR fight with its rival over ratings.

“We are excited to begin our partnership with Wieden + Kennedy New York, an innovative and creative powerhouse that will help us build on the success of Fox Sports’ marquee live events and growing momentum of FS1’s studio programming,” Fox Sports executive vice president, marketing Robert Gottlieb said in a statement. “Our new partner shares our vision for the future of FOX Sports and will bring proven creative and strategic expertise to the network’s impressive sports rights portfolio.”

W+K’s first work for Fox should debut at some point later this year.