Viewers who tune into ESPN’s coverage of the College Football Playoff National Championship between LSU and Clemson on January 13 will have a lot of choices.
Fifteen to be exact, as the network will nationally “MegaCast” its coverage of the game across its television networks and ESPN app.
ESPN calls it a MegaCast because it’s the only time all year the sports media giant clears all of its networks to cover a single sporting event.
ESPN derives several major benefits from MegaCast, according to Ilan Ben-Hanan, ESPN’s vice president, programming & acquisitions.
For one, ESPN uses MegaCast as a “laboratory” to experiment with new equipment, camera angles, and second screen production techniques. The ‘PylonCams’ now-ubiquitous in NFL/college football game coverage was tested on previous MegaCasts.
“It’s a great innovation tool,” said Ben-Hanan.
Devoting that amount of resources to one game also helps to improve storytelling. One of Ben-Hanan’s favorite moments came during the first MegaCast in 2014 when all three college coaches working “Coaches Film Room” accurately predicted a fake punt by Florida State against Auburn.
“That’s the kind of stuff you’re dying for as a fan,” noted Ben-Hanan. “The anticipation of things before they happen. When you get them right, it’s magical.”
This will be ESPN’s sixth consecutive MegaCast of college football’s biggest game.
There will be the main national telecast on ESPN, with Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler. But tune in to ESPN2, and you’ll see ‘Field Pass,’ which will offer a free-flowing commentary of the game from Adam Amin and Steve Levy alongside guests like McAfee and Dan Orlovsky.
Over on ESPNU, the popular ‘Coaches Film Room,’ will return after a one-year hiatus, while ESPNEWS will feature the multi-angle ‘Command Center,’ ACC Network and SEC Network will feature the calls from the respective Clemson and LSU radio teams, and ESPN Classic will feature a broadcast with just the natural audio from the stadium.
A MegaCast enables ESPN to also attract supplementary viewers. No matter how good Herbstreit and Fowler are on the main broadcast, Ben-Hanan said, there’s no one-size-fits-all telecast that will satisfy all viewers. Think of a MegaCast as a buffet that can potentially appeal to every viewer’s taste.
“If you’re really, really avid, you might want to see the coaches. If you’re more casual, you might want to see what Pat McAfee has to say on ‘Field Pass,’ he said.
Last year’s MegaCast presentations on ESPN2, ESPNews, and ESPNU added 969,799 additional viewers compared to 1,028,046 from ESPN2 and ESPNU in 2018. However, the entire reach of the MegaCast is incomplete since ESPN Classic, ESPN3 and SEC Network were not counted – and viewers popped in and out to sample the different presentations.
Including the MegaCast, ESPN’s overall coverage of Clemson’s blowout 44-16 win over Alabama in the 2019 National Championship averaged 26,979,000 viewers, according to Nielsen. That made it the most-watched of the three head-to-head meetings between Tigers and Crimson Tide in the championship game.
MegaCasting is “the future of live sports event coverage,” predicted John Kosner, the former ESPN executive turned founder of Kosner Media.
“The NFL‘s ‘Thursday Night Football’ is essentially a MegaCast with Fox, NFL Network, Twitch, and Amazon Prime. While the main telecast serves most viewers, it hardly serves all,” Kosner noted. “And with the investment in the most valuable sports rights only headed higher, the pressure to maximize those rights spend will necessitate MegaCasts.”
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Many core college football fans will probably stick with ESPN’s main telecast, predicted Professor George Solomon, director of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. But MegaCasts are a smart way to attract more casual viewers who might not tune in otherwise.
“A lot of viewers will come to the broadcast who aren’t their usual college football viewers,” said Solomon. “So it offers some options. And it’s an attempt by ESPN to try to do something different and get as big an audience as possible.”
During an interview with Front Office Sports, Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s chief media and business officer, confirmed the league’s “open” to MegaCasting NFL properties like ESPN “Monday Night Football” in the future.
As sports viewers seek more personalized presentations, MegaCasts are an idea whose time has come, according to Kosner.
“MegaCasts are just more entertaining,” he said. “The beauty of the MegaCast for major events is that even if the incremental audience is small, it still supports and expands an ad sale that is big. Ultimately, this type of customization will lend itself to more premium offerings as well.”