(Copyright 2002. The Tattoo. All rights reserved.)
Making a permanent impression since 1994
Sept. 30, 2002
ESPN's favorite viewers are teens
By T.J. O'Connor
ESPN and teenagers have a lot in common – fun,
technology, change, and most importantly, sports.
But as much as teens might think they need ESPN, the sports
media giant needs them even more.
“Teens are the biggest fans, absolutely,” said Artie
Bulgrin, a senior vice-president and ratings analyst at ESPN. “We skew to a
SportsCenter anchor Rich Eisen said ESPN’s style – not
taking sports too seriously and using comedy to attract viewers – appeals to
ESPN lures teen viewers with star athletes, the popular,
self-promoting “This is SportsCenter” ad campaign, cutting edge technology
and even the new, “futuristic” SportsCenter set.
Executive Editor John Walsh said the network uses many
tactics to capture teenage viewers.
“It’s an important demographic,” said Walsh.
ESPN airs exciting and interesting plays over and over,
added Walsh, which he said is something teens like.
“We try to inject as much humor as possible,” said
Walsh, and uses plenty of cultural references. He said ESPN also tries to
feature players or stars who are popular among teens.
ESPN knows that much of its success lies in the hands of
its teenage audience, and is constantly trying to increase its teenage audience.
Mark Shapiro, ESPN executive vice-president, said the
company is doing “significantly better” in the 12 to 24-year-old
demographic, attributing the improvement to airing more Little League games, the
rise of extreme sports and the X Games.
Most viewers watching the X Games are in the 12 to
24-year-old group, Shapiro said, adding that it is the toughest group to attract
and “the most important and the most valuable” to advertisers.
Teenagers can depend on ESPN to provide all the information
they need about sporting events that they didn’t have time to watch, Bulgrin
said, and news on upcoming events as well.
According to Bulgrin, social currency matters most to young
“Sports and music, they go hand in hand,” said Bulgrin.
ESPN The Magazine took this into account in terms of
clothing, the style of graphics used and subject matter, according to John
Skipper, an executive vice-president at ESPN who is in charge of ESPN.com and
In launching ESPN The Magazine, the company aimed at
younger readers, Skipper said, avoiding the audience already locked up by Sports
Skipper credited the success of the popular magazine to
having a younger staff. The magazine takes a look inside the sports, he said,
rather than dwelling on a game that is already history.
“Kids care about that more,” said Skipper.
First-person features by athletes are popular with teenage
readers, Skipper said, because younger readers are skeptical about the press and
like to see articles entirely in the words of the subject rather than filtered
by a writer.
Bulgrin cited an ESPN poll showing that teenagers are the
biggest sports fans.
Of those questioned, 46 percent consider themselves
"Serious-to-Super Fans,” according to Bulgrin, compared to 30 percent for
the general population.
According to the latest research conducted by Teenage
Research Unlimited, an organization that specializes in research on teens, more
male ages 12 to 19 ranked ESPN or ESPN2 as their favorite than any other
“It’s the fun that we have and kids like to have, in
one cool, slick package,” said Eisen.
Skipper said the ESPN.com website is changed constantly,
sometimes several times during the course of an important game.
While adults might find flashing icons and moving messages
on their computer screen annoying, Skipper said, teenagers find them a cool,
quick and convenient source of information.
According to Eisen, teenage boys have two passions: girls
“When I was a teenager, that’s all I cared about,”
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