Home of SportsCenter Top 10 gave ESPN a chance to reestablish the emotional bond that sports fans have long had with SportsCenter by bringing its iconic brand prestige to a more grassroots audience. As ESPN’s Director of Brand Marketing, Peter Mulally, noted, “the overwhelming support in each respective community reinforced why this initiative is so special to so many people.” But not only did Home of SportsCenter Top 10 energize small towns across America, it also helped pave the way for the SportsCenter brand to connect with an entirely new generation of athletes -- bringing a young generation of cord-cutting Gen-Z sports fans closer to the original leader of the sports highlights.
Objective: For decades, ESPN’s flagship show, SportsCenter, has featured a daily segment highlighting the best plays from around the world called SportsCenter Top 10. This segment became a fan favorite by featuring plays from both the world’s biggest superstars as well as young, amateur athletes of all ages and from all corners of the country. SportsCenter Top 10 was the one-stop destination for the day’s most amazing athletic achievements and the crown jewel for those athletes who somehow managed to pull these incredible plays off.
But in recent years, a new wave of sports media brands began popping up and borrowing from the SportsCenter playbook. Suddenly there were hundreds of sports highlights channels, sometimes with millions of their own followers and fan-bases. For today’s young, amateur athletes, that meant more places for their plays to be seen and more people to see them. But for SportsCenter, that meant needing to find a new way of distinguishing SportsCenter Top 10 and winning back their place in the minds of today’s young athletes.
Strategy & Execution: SportsCenter needed to find a new way of rewarding today’s young athletes in a way that only SportsCenter could. Within the wider world of sports highlights, we saw an important distinction in not just helping these kids get individually famous, but rather in making these kids feel genuinely honored and part of a club. SportsCenter didn’t just want to just dole shout-outs. They needed to actually show up.
As we spoke with various high school athletes from across the country who had previously made it onto the show, we heard firsthand how these athletes were humbled by the fact that getting their plays featured on SportsCenter Top 10 became a source of pride for their teams and their towns. These kids loved feeling like a local hometown sensation. And this was a unique advantage for SportsCenter that simply wasn’t true of most other sports highlight channels.
This inspired us to set out and bring the bright lights of SportsCenter directly to the places where these athletes call home. By bringing ten different installations to ten different athletes in ten different towns throughout the country, SportsCenter was able to reward young, amateur athletes with a celebration that made them feel a part of something bigger than themselves.
Results: We launched Home of SportsCenter Top 10 on October 10th of 2019 (10/10) as a full-day celebration of our ten young, amateur athletes. We deemed it Top 10 Day and rallied the organization to showcase individual stories throughout the day, culminating in a special live segment of SportsCenter at a high-school in Liberal, Missouri.
We surprised softball player and recent stroke survivor, Brooke Bearden, with a celebration that her small hometown will never forget. Across ESPN and SportsCenter’s digital channels, we expanded the story as a way to introduce fans from around the world to all ten of our young, amateur athletes.
On social media, an outpouring of legendary college sports teams, beloved sports franchises and major professional leagues -- everyone from Alabama’s football program to Major League Soccer to the New York Jets -- all joined in on the #SCTop10 celebrations by submitting their own favorite plays and trying to get their own cities on the map. And after all the action culminated on October 10th, we continue to reward every young, amateur athlete who makes it onto SportsCenter Top 10 with their own personalized SportsCenter kit, tricked out with custom momentos to serve as a permanent reminder of their incredible athletic achievement.