It is usually the quietest week in sports in the United States, two days surrounding the MLB All-Star Game, where, unless you are a fan of Arena Football, the WNBA, Indy baseball or NBA Summer League, team sports in the U.S. take a respite. No games Monday. None Wednesday, and only a few even on Thursday.
Into that void came the ESPYs, short for Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award. The first ESPYs were 1993 in the winter, but they moved to the All-Star Week time slot and to Los Angeles in 2002 and have grown ever since.
With Drake as the host, this year’s awards again show how far entertainment and athletics mix well, with lots of emotion mixed in through work with the V Foundation. Most importantly for ESPN, the ESPY’s have become a cross-platform promotional tool that showcases sports as entertainment off the field, gives athletes from all walks of life a chance to gather together, and highlights a great cause while supporting so many brands that play key roles in the business of ESPN.
Not to be outdone, another network, albeit one geared towards kids—Nickelodeon—will also launch its own awards this Thursday in L.A., down the Freeway from LA Live at Pauley Pavilion on the UCLA Campus. The first “Nickelodeon Kids Choice Sports Awards,” hosted by Michael Strahan, will have its own share, and many of the same, athletes an celebrities as the ESPY’s the night before, but will be geared towards a younger, more entertaining audience than those who would tune in for the ESPY’s.
It presents an interesting launching point for Nick, which once had its own sports focus for Kids called GAS (Games and Sports), to try and give kids who watch the channel a chance to interact with sports stars much like they do pop stars on a regular basis, and get young people who have become a bit more sedentary a chance to get off the couch and into some activities by learning more about some of the biggest names in the game, from David Beckham (who will be getting a lifetime achievement award) to players like Larry Fitzgerald, Henrik Lundqvist and Kevin Durant, all of whom will be involved with the show. The categories are more kid focused and less event focused than the ESPY’s, as Nick tries to carve its own course in engaging young people.
“Who has the best swag is not necessarily about attitude,” Strahan, who has taken an active role in producing the show, said in an interview recently with Jacqueline Cutler that appeared in the Bergen Record. “It’s about confidence. There are different ways of swag. So who has their own unique style that people love and want to emulate?”
It is that type of message that the awards, along with the obligatory slime that will be launched, will try and project to a key audience for sport; a young demo that may not be following games and athletes in the traditional way.
“Both the ESPY’s and the Nick Kids Choice Sports Awards show that sports and entertainment continue to mix even more closely together, and that’s a good thing for both genres and for brands as well,” said Chris Lencheski, former head of Front Row Marketing and now a consultant to several sports properties. “We are now much more about engagement for fans of every age away from the field, and these types of shows give fans a glimpse of life away from what we normally see. They are fun, entertaining and a smart, strategic way to do business in their own way.”
So while we will get back to the games on the field this week, it is nice to see some days that used to be quiet picking up steam and helping bridge the gap between sports and entertainment once again.