ESPN's PR crew understands how to get fans into the Zone

For sports fanatics, it's heaven. Or just what they hope heaven will be like (except beer will be free).

For sports fanatics, it's heaven. Or just what they hope heaven will be like (except beer will be free).

ESPN Zone in Manhattan, a brilliantly conceived hospitality offshoot of the popular cable channel, provides everything the contemporary sports buff could want: dozens of high-def, big screen TVs (some of them the size of Rhode Island), delectable "dude food," and a loud, stimulating environment to keep the nervous system on full tilt during time-outs. Nirvana, with nachos.

Numerous other ESPN Zones are strewn across the US, but the joint in Times Square is the place to be. The PR team has done a terrific job of making the Zone a hub for televised sports, live events, and press conferences. On the day I dropped by, NASCAR was conducting a media day for its top ten Nextel Cup drivers, and a major pool tournament was about to start.

Regional marketing manager Susan Abramson told me the Zone draws on both a large tourist base and fans of local sports teams, while maximizing opportunities presented by enviable geography. "Since ESPN's main broadcast facility is just over two hours from the city, the Zone acts as a satellite studio of sorts. We accommodate numerous live shots each week featuring athletes, editors, analysts, and more. We've also been home to ESPN's The Sports Reporters for the past six years."

ESPN Zone relies on Dan Klores Associates to extend its PR message, and the ad boutique The Ballpark in Santa Monica, CA, to develop local and national collateral materials. Tourist outreach is driven by visitor print titles, ongoing relationships with hotel concierge, and two online sites, which are handled by Web Associates. The Ballpark also maintains ESPN Zone's MVP Club database and e-mail blast systems, which alerts some 50,000 nationwide members to event information and discounts.

A University of Arizona marketing grad, Abramson joined ESPN from Macy's where, among other things, she was instrumental in the execution of the famous Thanksgiving Day Parade. That may have been an easier ticket than getting into the Zone on a football Sunday, based on the line I saw outside. Abramson, who manages a staff of ten and is also responsible for the Zone restaurant in Atlanta, says, "ESPN Zone is to ESPN what Disneyland is to Disney." The similarities extend all the way to your feet. You must be willing to wait in line to get into the two happiest places on Earth.

  • Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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