Ground Zero Gets Game, Landing Sega Sports Titles

After adding clout to its sports titles by licensing the ESPN name and revamping the games to look and feel more like ESPN, Sega Visual Concepts Entertainment has selected an ESPN agency, Ground Zero, to promote its ESPN Videogame series.

Ground Zero will handle package design and creative for what will likely be a multiplatform effort to build up the 9-month-old brand, sources said. The shop’s first work, expected to include TV and online, will probably break in late summer to coincide with football season, sources said.

Billings for the videogame series are around $10 million, sources estimated. The independent shop in Marina del Rey, Calif., confirmed last week that it is in contract negotiations with the San Rafael, Calif., videogame developer but declined further comment. Sega reps also declined comment.

Sources said the assignment is for creative but could expand to include media buying, now handled by Interpublic Group’s Initiative in Los Angeles.

“They know gaming, and they know sports,” said a source, noting that Ground Zero also has a reputation for both traditional and nontraditional ad approaches.

The category is ruled by EA Sports, a unit of Electronic Arts. Sega Visual Concepts formed the alliance with ESPN last June and rebranded its 2K sports-game series, modifying the games to include ESPN announcers and ESPN-style camera angles, among other changes. “The big challenge here is to make the most out of the ESPN heritage and what ESPN stands for in a market where somebody else has established themselves as the big player in videogames,” a source said.

The lineup includes five titles, covering football, basketball, hockey, college basketball and baseball, available for Sony PlayStation2 and Microsoft’s Xbox.

Wieden + Kennedy in New York, which split with the client late last year, crafted a series of TV commercials for the videogames featuring comedian Tracey Morgan as crazed fan “Reggie Reg,” who has an inflated sense of his skills in each sport. As he haplessly plays the games, he taunts famous athletes, including Jeremy Roenick of the Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay’s Warren Sapp, NBA star Ben Wallace and New York Yankee Jason Giambi.

The foray into sports videogames is just one more brand extension for the cable network, which has steadily expanded to include a magazine and a restaurant chain.

“It’s the strongest sports-only brand that’s out there,” said Jeanne Goldstein, vp of sports and entertainment at Publicis’ Frankel in Chicago. Goldstein said Sega also brings something to the game. “In gaming, if you don’t have quality, people aren’t going to play it,” she said. “Sega also has that level of integrity.”

Ground Zero, an ESPN roster shop for nine years, won the account in a review over one undisclosed finalist. The shop has promoted various ESPN shows, as well as ESPN.com. It also has videogame experience, launching Activision’s Tony Hawk Pro Skater in 1999 and working on Activision titles such as Space Invaders and Asteroids.

The agency also has created ads for Sega Soft computer games and Atari.