ESPN Becomes A Political Ad Player

By Alex Weprin 

Every few years, when an major election rolls around, TV ad pods fill with ads promoting or opposing candidates and issues. In between the elections, however, the issues ads tend to be relegated to cable news channels, which rely on smaller, wonkier audiences when there isn’t big breaking news.

ESPN (which has a news operation that rivals Fox News in terms of the number of employees, and has more total employees than CNN), has always been a popular channel for advertisers. Now, however, the issues ads that dominate cable news are moving over to the sports channel, and the reason why is fascinating. Politico explains:

Media strategists tell POLITICO they offer up the all-sports network as an option to clients who want to get their issues in front of Obama and top White House officials, known as big sports fans and rabid ESPN watchers.

“It’s certainly a tactic that’s talked about a lot,” said one media strategist, who had a client advertise on ESPN in hopes of reaching Obama during the climate change debate of his first term. “It was for exactly that reason.”

The strategist said the ads can’t be so obvious that Obama knows he’s the intended audience.

“It’s not just targeting Obama, but doing it in a way that is both interesting and will get the attention of the audience, but not so unusual that it will put the client in a bad position.”

Yes, advertising on ESPN to reach President Obama, who, like President Bush before him, tends to skip the cable news shows in favor of “SportsCenter.” It is an expensive habit, with ads on ESPN going for a significant premium over those on cable news, particularly during live sporting events.