The Shorty Awards honor the best of social media and digital. View this season's finalists!

Special Project

Special Project
From the 16th Annual Shorty Awards

ESPN x NBA Finals

Entered in TikTok Partnership


As the television landscape continues to evolve, overall linear TV consumption has experienced steep declines. 77% of all ad-supported cable networks suffered total day audience declines versus year prior, with A18-34 being down 21% from the 2021/22 to the 2022/2023 broadcast season.  This has limited overall scale to drive household ratings and impacting the need for cable amongst the next generation of cord-cutters/cord-nevers (A18-34).

While ESPN’s primary KPI has always revolved around holistic Tune In, the average age of NBA Playoffs Viewership has climbed by 24% in the last 5 years and now has an average age of 52.  We needed to devise a strategy to pull young adult fans back into the ESPN ecosystem and build upon an area of strength of their social following and content consumption.

Our business objective was simple: Close this age gap by engaging with young adult NBA fans in their most coveted and endemic environments. We wanted to attract these younger fans by providing them a platform to show their love of the NBA and participate in the excitement of the NBA Finals.  Our optimal path to achieve this goal of converting A18-34 fans into the ESPN ecosystem was breaking through on their most utilized platform: TikTok.

Strategy and Execution

Young adult fans are social by nature, but not in the traditional sense. Their cunningness in navigating the digital world means their online identities and personas are as valuable as their physical, allowing them to curate their optimal representation of self, on full display for the world to see and engage with.  We know they resonate best with a brand when given a seat at the table, the ability to personalize how they show up and have their voice heard.

While sports, and the NBA are areas of interest for these younger sport fans and ESPN is a successful go to content destination within TikTok, this doesn’t organically lead to viewership.  We needed to provide an opportunity for them to put another, more meaningful layer of personalization onto how they were currently interacting with ESPN, allowing them to feel more invested into the NBA Finals.

In order to reach and grow A18-34 NBA fans linear participation we aimed to deepen the social currency ESPN has with these young adult sports fans.  We looked to leverage their proficiency with social platforms, and desire to put their self at the forefront of how they show up with brands. We did this by developing an approach to GET young adult NBA fans TO engage more deeply with ESPN on TikTok BY providing them a platform that can transform anyone into an NBA ESPN influencer regardless of their following.

TikTok’s Branded Mission is an industry-FIRST, three-in-one advertising solution that enabled ESPN to:

The ESPN Branded Mission Challenge: How do you NBA Finals? We tasked the creators of TikTok to put a basketball twist on the content their audiences love and show fans how they are getting ready for the NBA Finals on ABC.

We utilized a TikTok dashboard (which housed all the Branded Mission submissions) and allowed Publicis Imagine (ESPN’s media AOR) and the ESPN Social and Media teams to access to review all creator submissions IN REAL TIME throughout the 6-day submission window, jumping on new and trending videos ripe for amplification.

After an extensive review of the submissions, 12 of the top pieces of UGC received boosted promotion on the TikTok platform. Due to this this new process, ESPN and the NBA now reached fans in a native and authentic way.


The Branded Mission connected with 366 content creators, 78% of which were A18-34, who submitted and posted nearly 600 pieces of organic user-generated content for TikTok.

Overall, the Branded Mission Challenge, Boosted Spark Ads, #NBAFinalsonABC delivered 155MM impressions, 114MM video views and 6MM engagements, demonstrating a vested interest among young adult NBA fans in UGC ads by shattering historical Video Completion and Engagement Rate metrics +104% and +164% above historical benchmarks, respectively.

Leveraging this first-to-market opportunity leading into the game one of the NBA Finals helped contribute to a +15% increase in linear viewership YoY, and an increased A18-34 composition of 5% helping to stop the up-aging of the NBA Finals game one, and carrying that lift through our close out game, which saw an uptick in over 14%.

To further validate paid media’s impact on the overall success of this campaign, we partnered with Samba TV to measure lift in tune-in rates from our TikTok ESPN NBA Postseason campaign. Through measurement of unexposed and exposed audiences to the campaign, TikTok drove effective result:  +13% lift in tune-in.  Of the tactics used, the Branded Mission challenge was the driving factor of the lift on TikTok with 70% of those exposed contributing to the measured tune-in lift of the campaign.

ESPN effectively stopped the aging of the NBA Finals through social community engagement and brand affinity, resulting in these fans eagerness to participate in the hype and tune in the NBA Finals.


Entrant Company / Organization Name

Zenith/Publicis Imagine, ESPN

Entry Credits