Say what you will about Fox Sports, they’re consistent. Over the last several years they’ve done everything possible to establish themselves as the off-brand ESPN, from bringing in trash enthusiast/flim-flam man Jamie Horowitz to run the show to putting failed dipshits ranging from Colin Cowherd to Rob Parker on their broadcasts.
It thus shouldn’t have come as a surprise that last week advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy quietly announced that it had become Fox Sports’ agency of record, simultaneously announcing that its 25-year relationship with ESPN had ended in December. If Fox could staple a pair of mouse ears to its head, it would.
You may not have heard of Wieden+Kennedy, but you’ve certainly seen their work. Their most prominent work for ESPN was the “This Is SportsCenter” campaign, for which they crafted clever bits like LaDainian Tomlinson working in the ESPN mailroom, Alexander Ovechkin as a Russian spy, and ESPN NFL analyst John Clayton as a Slayer fan living in his mom’s basement:
W+K is even more well-known for their long relationship with Nike. The agency, founded in Portland, Ore., came up with the “Just Do It” slogan, and commercials like “Bo Knows,” “Lil Penny,” and numerous others.
Now the agency that defined Nike and ESPN for decades is working for the Suicide Squad.
Both ESPN and Wieden+Kennedy declined to comment on the end of their partnership, and both released relatively perfunctory statements:
ESPN and W+K benefitted from a long, fruitful relationship that resulted in breakthrough creative, most notably the iconic and ongoing This is SportsCenter campaign.
ESPN was a defining client for Wieden + Kennedy New York and our entire network. We wish them the best.
AdWeek reports that ESPN has reduced its marketing spending in the last few years and spread its work out among multiple agencies, meaning less work and less money for W+K. ESPN will continue working with multiple agencies, and one of them will take over the “This Is SportsCenter” commercials.
The 25-year relationship W+K and ESPN was an outlier, as the length of such relationships is getting shorter and shorter. But plenty of large companies are deciding to spend less on marketing, and spending on digital rather than television commercials.
Large agencies like Wieden+Kennedy—it has eight offices across four continents—were built upon and oriented around big television campaigns. But according to people I talked to within the advertising business, newer and smaller agencies are often better at targeting young people, advertising through social media, and executing multiple small, digitally-oriented campaigns as opposed to a single large television campaign. As ESPN’s terrestrial television business inevitably declines, they will increasingly be attempting to woo customers who don’t even own a TV. Working with ad agencies who know how to do so is paramount.
As for Fox Sports, Wieden+Kennedy is a perfectly fine choice as an advertising agency of record, if another example of the network’s devotion to playing Jennifer Jason Leigh to ESPN’s Bridget Fonda. Fox Sports says W+K will work with all aspects of their brand, with their first focus being the 2018 World Cup.(W+K created a number of Nike’s iconic soccer commercials.) To what end? Fox Sports EVP of marketing Robert Gottlieb here tells AdWeek a pretty hilarious untruth about it:
Mr. Gottlieb said Fox Sports doesn’t “really look at it as a competition” with other networks, but focuses more on “executing a vision,” which it believes Wieden will help amplify. FS1 is concentrating on being a “destination for smart, fearless, decisive sports opinions, as opposed to just sports news and highlights,” he said.
Here you see Gottlieb attempting to pigeonhole ESPN as “just sports news and highlights,” drawing an implicit contrast between boring sports games and the exciting prospect of watching a cavalcade of crypto-racists shit out of their mouths on command. Meanwhile, Fox Sports PR heavily pushes any Nielsen ratings that shows even a minuscule gain on ESPN, and just today, on Second Take, Shannon Sharpe asserted that there would be no Stephen A. Smith or Bomani Jones without Skip Bayless. The public may have little interest in what Fox is selling, but that won’t stop them from selling it.
With ESPN still trounces Fox Sports in the ratings, and Fox Sports is obviously hoping that a large and coordinated advertising campaign will help the selling. Good luck to Wieden+Kennedy as they attempt to market ESPN’s leavings; they’ll need it.