The Spot: ESPN's Perfect Game

In 17 years and almost 400 ads, W+K's 'This Is SportsCenter' campaign has triumphed by barely changing at all

GENESIS: The original premise of ESPN's "This Is SportsCenter" ads, launched in 1995, was that the network's Bristol, Conn., offices were the center of the sports universe—a fantasy world where athletes and mascots lived and worked together with anchors and journalists. The conceit arrived fully formed. Aside from the specific athletes and plot lines, Wieden + Kennedy New York has changed next to nothing in the almost 400 spots since. The campaign's style, and even its name, were inspired by This Is Spinal Tap, the rock mockumentary from a decade earlier. While Nike and every other sports marketer portrayed athletes as superhuman, ESPN presented them as absurdly yet relatably human—doing menial tasks, chatting with co-workers, enduring office life's endless small humiliations. By bringing them down to size, in a way sports fans loved, ESPN built a larger-than-life campaign that athletes now practically beg to be involved in. "It's not hard to get almost any athlete we want, because the writing is so good, the campaign is so beloved," said Seth Ader, ESPN's senior director of marketing. "We struck on a nice formula, and just kept it going." After 17 years, it shows no sign of slowing down.