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The Rise Of ESPN's 'College GameDay'

The Rise Of ESPN's 'College GameDay'
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They've been coming to your city for 21 years.

This week, ESPN’s "College GameDay" goes to back to where it began... well, sort of.

Fifth-ranked Notre Dame (6-0) travels to second-ranked Florida State (6-0) Saturday night. The matchup of unbeatens recalls the very first time "GameDay" traveled on the road -- November 13, 1993. The Seminoles went up up to South Bend, Indiana, in a matchup of the country’s top-ranked teams. The Fighting Irish came out on top 31-24.

"GameDay" first aired in the 1987 season, but they've been known for traveling all over the country since 1993. Lee Corso has become a folk hero of sorts, donning a school’s mascot head at the conclusion of each telecast. The site of each week’s game usually has big implications on that season’s national title picture.

"Show me a player who truly does not give a hoot about his image and I will be blown away by that revelation. Players wants to hear their names and see their images on the screen during ‘GameDay,'" Darren Heitner, a sports attorney who has dealt with many NFL clients, told Benzinga. "They are interested in what top commentators have to say about their teammates and competition. There is no doubt that they tune in to such coverage when given the chance."

ESPN and college football have come a long way since that first "GameDay" in South Bend.

The Only One

As children grow out of Saturday morning cartoons, the next logical step (for sports fans, at least) is getting their fill of football and entertainment.

"It demonstrates the value of recognizable, charismatic and knowledgeable personalities being part of programming and solidifies the importance of providing consumable and desirable live content," Heitner said. "It has been such a success that it has led to others trying to imitate it (without much success)."

Horizon Media Research Director Brad Adgate told Benzinga that "GameDay" is "appointment viewing." The show is averaging 1.8-million viewers so far this season, which Adgate said is a strong number considering the time period.

"It's personality driven and these guys have fun with, schools love to host -- it gives them stature. I don’t think any other network has as popular a pre-game show."

Adgate said Fox Sports 1 is the "most likely" network that could compete in the time slot, but overall ESPN has the most high-profile football games (along with CBS Corporation and its SEC partnership). Notre Dame has actually had an exclusive contract with NBC since 1993; the network broadcasts all Notre Dame home games.

The Atmosphere

Thousands of students, fans and alumni attend the three-hour telecast every week. Unique signs and hashtags can become all the rage across social media almost immediately.

Heitner, who attended the University of Florida from 2003-2007, shared some of his memories.

"I vividly recall waking up before sunrise and heading to the set with my best friend who was at Florida State University at the time. That was freshman year, and we were more than thrilled to forfeit sleep in exchange for witnessing ‘GameDay’ live," he explained. "The biggest change I've noticed over time is the vast improvement of the production. From the talent retained for guest picks, to the increase in hours and segments, it is really quite a sizable event."

The broadcast originally ran from 10 a.m to 12 p.m., but expanded to 9 a.m. in 2013. Guest pickers range from a school’s famous alumni to superfans like country star Kenny Chesney or pop hit Katy Perry.

So how is each game picked?

"I’m looking for the best story of the day," Lee Fitting, the coordinating producer for ESPN’s college studio shows, told the New York Times in 2013. The report explained that universities receive a letter each August from Fitting that outlines what "GameDay" needs.

Fitting writes: "As the show’s popularity and on-site attendance continue to grow... we wanted to formally document our expectations in order to make a GameDay visit the best possible experience for your fans, our sponsors, the show’s production personnel and your school’s football program."

The Sponsors

In fact, the full name of the broadcast is "College GameDay built by The Home Depot." The home improvement retailer has been the title sponsor of the show for nine years. It has provided The Home Depot, Inc. (NYSE: HD) with a unique level of exposure since 2003, which is also when "GameDay" grew even bigger.

As Sports Business Daily wrote last year, "John Costello, the current president of global marketing at Dunkin’ Donuts, was Home Depot’s executive vice president of marketing in 2003. At that time, Costello reached out to ESPN’s Ed Erhardt, president of global marketing and sales, for ideas on how to integrate Home Depot into the network’s college football coverage."

SBD reported last year that Home Depot, The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO), Cheez-It (a subsidiary of Kellogg Company) and AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) spend about a combined $50 million for the show.

"Coca-Cola will pay in the neighborhood of $15 million to be integrated into the show with a new feature called 'Section Zero' for its Coke Zero brand. Kellogg’s Cheez-It brand, sponsor of the popular 'Real Fancam,' spends $8 million to $10 million a year. AT&T has a significant integration in the seven figures annually as well."

The report went on to say that, "Despite the personnel changes, Home Depot has used its ubiquitous branding across the “GameDay” set and personal services agreements with all four members of the crew to weave a "GameDay" theme through its creative during the season. Home Depot also has ramped up its hospitality over the years, inviting manufacturers and vendors to "GameDay" sites."

Notre Dame Vs. Florida State

Notre Dame built up its reputation before many of today’s players were even born. Florida State has come on as a powerhouse in the last quarter century. Here is a breakdown of how these teams have fared since 1993. Florida State holds a 5-2 all-time record over Notre Dame.


Posted-In: Brad Adgate Colelge GameDay Darren Heitner ESPN GameDayTop Stories Success Stories Media Best of Benzinga


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