ESPN is the leading multinational, multimedia sports entertainment brand featuring the broadest portfolio of multimedia sports assets. Its mission is simple: To serve sports fans. Anytime. Anywhere. For the past three years, and with the full support of its new president (now Chairman, ESPN and Sports Content) Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN deepened its investment in digital and social content to support its audience expansion priority, specifically in reaching more followers and growing engagement with younger and more diverse fans. This includes a robust digital and social talent lineup that includes Omar Raja, who joined The ESPN Social team has also invested in resources to keep up with the ever-changing social algorithms to study content trends and metrics and monitor content performance to grow reach and engagement with these audiences year-round.
SportsCenter on Instagram is an extension of ESPN’s flagship TV show that serves fans and the sports community with fun and engaging content that entertains, informs and connects with younger audiences in a way that reflects how they consume sports today. Much like Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Stuart Scott, and Scott Van Pelt, who drew audiences to the original SportsCenter, House of Highlights founder Omar Raja joined ESPN in 2020 to do just that for SC on IG, injecting his own voice and personality when he took over the account. His content-discovery strategy and deep connection with the social audience added fuel to the growing increase in followers and engagement driven by the existing ESPN Social team.
2020 was an unprecedented year that saw a global pandemic and the absence of live sports – and by extension, the absence of sports highlights that fuels SportsCenter. It was an incredibly challenging time for everyone in the sports media industry, but ESPN didn’t skip a beat and rose to the occasion. The team rallied to continue covering the sports world and the latest breaking news while also keeping fans and the sports community engaged by leaning heavier into fun, user-generated content, serving as a place for fans to come together and fill the sports void until live events returned. Even when sports returned, SC on IG continues to strike a balance of both types of content, which has benefited the account to its growing and industry-leading success.
In just the first three weeks of 2020, total video views jumped to 400M (+65% YOY) and engagement per post saw a +30% increase. By the end of the year, the account grew to 20M followers (up +35%) and attracted industry-leading engagement of 1.76B total actions (+115%) and 373K actions per post (up +75%). The account also had more than 40 posts garnering over 1M social engagements apiece, including its most popular Instagram post of 2020, ESPN’s Jay Williams on Kobe (1.97M social engagements, 8.3M video views). Before 2020, the account didn’t have a single post that achieved that threshold. SC on IG also helped ESPN Social overall climb to the No. 1 spot as the leading sports media publisher for engagement with 4.2B total actions across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (source: Shareablee), the highest among all sports publishers in 2020 and up +64%.
Beyond the numbers behind this incredible growth, SC on IG has also attracted the attention and praise from some of the biggest athletes and celebrities, including LeBron, The Rock, Trae Young, D-Wade, Christian Pulisic, Steph Curry, Justin Bieber, Shaq, Joe Budden and more. The account has also served as a platform for cultural crossovers, including the intersection of sports and music (for example, Richard Jefferson’s interview series that featured guests like Saweetie live).