ESPN Edge Conference Showcases Innovation in Sports Media – Barrett Sports Media

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ESPN Edge Conference Showcases Innovation in Sports Media
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“We’re proud of what Edge and our partners have accomplished in the last couple of years.”
ESPN is leveraging the capabilities of its ESPN Edge Innovation Center to promulgate sports media innovation with meaningful, impactful partnerships. The network launched the subset of its business two years ago, a sector that has been behind the development of immersions within live game broadcasts and the creation of new alternate-style presentations. These partnerships are centered on maximizing the potential of the technology, along with finding new opportunities to create and utilize the breadth of the network’s complete portfolio.
“We never stop looking ahead,” ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro said, “and in that regard, the ESPN Edge Innovation Center is doing some incredible work with our partners.”
Tony Reali, the host of Around the Horn on ESPN, returned to lead the conference just after taping his show at the network’s studios in New York City. In his opening remarks, he reflected on the progress the company has made and the potential innovation can present for sports media content in the future.
“…The jolt it gave to the industry is something we’re incredibly proud of here at ESPN,” Reali said. “it’s an opportunity for all of us to know the future is right there within our reach, and we do that with our partnerships with tech-forward companies.”
Kevin Lopes, ESPN vice president of sports business development and innovation, participated in the opening panel, titled “Powering the Future of Sports Media Innovation.” With ESPN Edge entering its third year of operation, he was prompted to define what the platform is doing to help lead the industry forward.
The network has a plethora of live game and studio content across several of its platforms, but continues to innovate around those properties through the Edge division of its business.
“The textbook answer is really it’s powering the future of sports media innovation through best-in-class partnerships,” Lopes said. “We also support business development, and the business development deal, you’re trying to raise revenue; make money, [and] go where the deal provides you. But at innovation, we have the ability to pick our partner. We have the ability to be uber-selective on who we’re going to allow to innovate with us.”
The worldwide leader in sports currently has three partners involved with ESPN Edge – Accenture; Microsoft and Verizon – and it is considering adding one to three more down the road. Yet it is also remaining intentional about its course of action and how to best effectuate its goals.
In the last year, ESPN has worked with other areas of The Walt Disney Company to build its portfolio of alternate presentations, such as Toy Story Funday Football and the NHL Big City Greens Classic. Moreover, it has introduced new technologies across different properties, such as volumetric video capture and analytics immersion, granting viewers the ability to gain more information from their viewing experience. After the company analyzes the marketplace and finds areas to consider for deliberation, it brings the information to its creative team to ideate on the topic and come towards an informed decision.
“There’s a poster in the office in Bristol that says, ‘Discuss, debate, decide, align,’” Walker divulged. “That’s an invitation to take on a lot of opinion; to take on a lot of conversation, and sometimes it’s not all the same thing, but then you get to the important part which is ‘decide.’ When the decision is made, we all line up behind that and we all go after the thing. It’s that mechanism that I think empowers the culture of ESPN generally, but it is exceedingly useful to innovation.”
David Roberts, the network’s head of event and studio production, overseeing both the WNBA and women’s college basketball broadcasts, along with studio shows such as Get Up, First Take and The Pat McAfee Show also spoke at the conference. Earlier in the week, First Take broadcast live from Savannah State University and Winston-Salem State University, the alma maters of Shannon Sharpe and Stephen A. Smith. The idea to visit these HBCUs came from Sharpe joining the show in September, and turned out to be one of the most fulfilling and memorable projects of Roberts’ entire career in television.
“You have a good idea and you execute it through the essence of teamwork, collaboration and cooperation of all aspects of ESPN,” Roberts said, “and that’s what happened.”
Since the addition of The Pat McAfee Show to the network’s daily programming lineup, numbers for ESPN’s YouTube channel have significantly risen. As part of his deal, McAfee’s show is available to watch on ESPN, ESPN+ and live on the network’s YouTube channel, a multi-tiered distribution approach that is paying dividends over its first several months on the air. The rest of the new weekday lineup emphasizes the aspect of blending sports conversation with fun and levity, an approach that has resonated with the audience as the programs sustain and augment total viewership.
“The fun happens with Pat McAfee, who’s also very much an information person, but he has fun,” Roberts said. “So what you have in the morning with Greeny, Stephen A. and McAfee is you have distinctive content; distinctive personalities who will translate not just on the linear platforms, but the innovation that happens on all the other platforms.”
ESPN’s departments interface within their work, all of which equip the network’s in-house creative studio to thrive consistently. Originally referred to as ESPN Creative Services, Tina Thornton, executive vice president of creative studio and marketing, enacted the name change to underscore the fact that they serve as partners rather than service providers. The group has worked with ESPN Edge on several projects over the years, including alternate presentations, and continues to forge a mutually beneficial partnership. One of its upcoming projects centers around the reveal and launch of ESPN BET, which is fostering its own identity that encompasses and modifies elements of the ESPN brand.
“ESPN BET – both from a creative studio and marketing side – the way that we were able to bring together some thoughts surrounding that; the entire brand identity that is very bold and unique and young,” Thornton said. “It looks a little different than ESPN, yet it’s still the ESPN brand.”
Thornton also revealed during the conference that one of the company’s great innovations, the NHL Big City Greens Classic will return in the spring. The company debuted the animated alternate broadcast in March, taking advantage of NHL tracking data to produce a riveting experience aimed at attracting younger fans.
Jay Snowden, PENN Entertainment chief executive officer and president, was also on stage at the event, taking part in a discussion with ESPN’s Vice President of Sports Betting and Fantasy, Mike Morrison. Snowden explained how the partnership with ESPN-Penn came together, what they hope to achieve moving forward, and shared a few slides to highlight various ways the brand will enter and attempt to cut through in a crowded marketplace. A deeper dive into ESPN BET’s launch and its plans for the future will be showcased on BSM this upcoming Tuesday, Nov. 14.
As the sports media landscape endures a shift concurrent with altered consumption trends and new technologies, ESPN is taking a proactive approach to ensure it does not fall behind or get caught off guard. ESPN Edge is an essential part of the future of the network, and a component with the potential to continually demonstrate indispensable value both on short-term and long-term endeavors.
“We’re proud of what Edge and our partners have accomplished in the last couple of years,” Pitaro said. “It’s important work, and it’s innovative work, but we also know that we’re just getting started over here.”

Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
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“That narrative isn’t accurate and is low-hanging fruit for too many.”
Al Michaels has received criticism in recent weeks for some unenthusiastic calls made during Thursday Night Football. His partner — Kirk Herbstreit — is trying to quash that.
“Many of you are missing it with Al. He’s having a blast,” Herbstreit wrote on X, formerly Twitter, in response to a fan questioning if Michaels is actually enjoying working the streaming-only package. “That narrative isn’t accurate and is low-hanging fruit for too many.”
Absolutely. Many of you are missing it with Al. He’s having a blast. That narrative isn’t accurate and is low hanging fruit for too many. https://t.co/kSALWQ43vS
Earlier this week, Michaels said he has every intention to return to Thursday Night Football despite pushback from viewers questioning if he still wanted to hold one of the top sports media jobs.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m doing next year,” Michaels told the New York Post. “There’s no question about that in my mind.”

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The program takes the air on Friday, Nov. 10 at 6 p.m. EST/3 p.m. PST.
ESPN is set to unveil the rebranded sports betting news and information program, ESPN BET Live, on Friday night from its headquarters in Bristol, Conn. in a new studio. The highly anticipated debut of the program will feature various ESPN talents around the ESPN BET branding, which includes a distinctive identity and palette to distinguish the property from the rest of the network. Talent from the program formerly known as Daily Wager – such as Joe Fortenbaugh, Erin Dolan and Anita Marks – are expected to appear on the first episode of the newly named show. The rebrand will be formally unveiled on the first episode under the new name, ESPN BET Live, on Friday, Nov. 10 beginning at 6 p.m. EST/3 p.m. PST on ESPN2 and available to stream on ESPN+.
Upon its launch on Tuesday, the network will reveal two promotional spots featuring SportsCenter anchors Scott Van Pelt and Elle Duncan. The sportsbook is also the official odds provider of ESPN and will be featured throughout the network’s studio-based programming and live game broadcasts. The entity is being operated by PENN Entertainment and is set to enter the first year of a 10-year contract worth a reported $1.5 billion. Within the deal, there is $159 million in performance warrants pursuant to attaining a total market share of 25% or more, currently set at a strike price of $28.95.
During the ESPN Edge Conference in New York City on Thursday, the network revealed more information about the sportsbook in a panel with Mike Morrison, ESPN vice president of sports betting and fantasy, along with Jay Snowden, PENN Entertainment chief executive officer and president. Work by ESPN Creative Studio was revealed at that time, demonstrating the look and feel that will surround the brand and its concomitant mobile application.
The addition of ESPN BET takes place at a time when The Walt Disney Company is in the midst of looking for a strategic partner to purchase a minority equity stake in the network. There is also work being done to develop a direct-to-consumer product by 2025, authorizing consumers with a new way to engage with the network.
Disney recently reported its quarterly earnings and revealed that ESPN garnered domestic operating income of $987 million, up 16% year-over-year (YoY). Total quarterly domestic revenue for the network reached $3.81 million, while ESPN+ subscriptions grew by 800,000 in the quarter, equating to a total of 26 million.
ESPN BET has a planned launch across 17 states on Tuesday, Nov. 14, marking the company’s first foray into the sports betting space as it works to continue serving the sports fan anytime, anywhere.

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“It’s been cool to be around the guys on TNF. That crew is incredible.”
As Richard Sherman is in his second career behind the microphone whether it be as an analyst on Thursday Night Football or on UNDISPUTED, the key thing for him is to give back to the game in which he had a strong 11-year-career, including a Super Bowl title. 
The five-time Pro Bowl and three-time All-Pro cornerback had a Q+A episode of The Richard Sherman Podcast this week and he was asked by a listener what the most rewarding part of his broadcast career has been so far and he mentioned that it’s about giving back to the sport now that he is no longer a player.
“I think the most rewarding part is just being able to give back to the game. It’s been cool to be around the guys on TNF. That crew is incredible. Charissa [Thompson], Tony [Gonzalez], [Andrew] Whitworth, Fitz [Ryan Fitzpatrick], Taylor [Rooks], Mike Smith, our producers and the staff that help us set up every week. It’s been really cool to be around those guys.”
As for his newer role on UNDISPUTED, Sherman enjoys it because it gives him the vibe of debating with his friends about football at a barber shop and he is still able to go to games that he can debate about with Skip Bayless, Keyshawn Johnson, and others.
UNDISPUTED is just fun. Get to talk the game, you get to hang out, you get to argue a little bit like you are in a barbershop. That’s always fun. Just fun to still be around the game and get to go to games on gameday.”
After the question, Sherman’s co-host, Mitch Eisenstein, told him that he probably never thought that he would be on a show with Skip Bayless talking football and he said that’s why he never rules anything out in his career.
“That’s why I don’t put anything past anything these days. I’m a kid that came from Watts that went to Stanford. Nothing is out of the realm of possibilities for me.” 

Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also the radio play-by-play voice of Northern Michigan University hockey. Reach him at [email protected].
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