On the day of the television premiere of the new “This is SportsCenter” spot featuring Tree, we had a chance to talk with Seth Ader, who oversees the “This is SportsCenter” campaign and serves as Senior Director of Sports Marketing for ESPN. We had some questions about the process of making the flagship advertising campaign of ESPN, and how Stanford and Tree fit into that. Ader was kind enough to answer them.
The Daily Axe: What goes into the decision to select particular players/mascots/personalities in a “This is SportsCenter” ad?
Seth Ader: We try to choose athletes that are very much in the news, either because they’re hot college athletes going to the pros, or just won the Super Bowl or an MVP, or are Rookie of the Year. We chose Heyward for this ad because he was a hot rookie who came into Major League Baseball with a lot of fanfare. When we decided to use a baseball player, we chose him because he’s someone who is very much on people’s lips.
DA: The Stanford Tree has appeared in two “This is SportsCenter” ads. What about the mascot makes it such an attractive candidate for an appearance in the campaign?
Ader: The Tree is so unique, it’s student-created, and it’s not a perfect, cookie-cutter mascot. We love shooting with the Tree. The student inside of the costume even flew over to Bristol for filming during Finals Week [at Stanford].
DA: The “This is SportsCenter” with the Oregon Duck at his cubicle went viral on the Internet and seems to be one of the most popular spots of the campaign in recent years. Has there been a conscious effort to incorporate more West Coast personalities in the campaign recently?
Ader: Not really. We try to spread out the spots across all sports and all regions. At times it might look like we’re East Coast-centric, but if you look at all of the spots throughout the years, you’ll find a nice geographic and sports distribution.
DA: Are travel and scheduling logistics more difficult for West Coast athletes and personalities?
Ader: For athletes, we have to shoot during their off-seasons, especially with baseball because baseball players play every day during the season. So it’s not much harder to use a West Coast figure. It’s just a slightly longer flight for the athlete, which means a greater commitment from the athlete, but it’s not much of a difference between a flight from Florida and a flight from California. It is particularly easy to arrange travel with an athlete in New York, Boston, or Philadelphia, though: it’s just a short, 2-3-hour car ride to Bristol.
DA: Why Jason Heyward and Tree?
Ader: We start with an athlete and the mascots typically work their ways into the script. In this case, casting the Tree was obvious: we wanted the cutting down the Tree joke.
DA: Did the Braves’ tomahawk play a subtle role in the choice to cast the two in the same commercial?
Ader: No. That’s a total coincidence.
DA: How long does it typically take to film a “This is SportsCenter” spot?
Ader: It takes about 3 weeks to get a script from our ad agency. We then do 3 weeks of pre-production: that’s securing the athlete and figuring out travel and production schedules. The shoot takes half a day, or about 3-4 hours. Then we do 3 weeks of post-production before it airs on ESPN. So in all, it’s about 3 months.
DA: Are there any behind-the-scenes facts about the making of the commercial that Stanford fans and students might enjoy knowing?
Ader: We have a location scout find the right setting for a spot and then try a walk-through of the spot without the athletes and mascots. The Tree spot was supposed to be filmed in a pass-through snack bar/mini-cafeteria in Bristol. But when the Tree arrived on set, it didn’t fit in the location—when the student is inside the costume, the Tree is about 8 or 9 feet tall, and the original location had 8-foot ceilings. We tried a second location, and its ceilings were also too low. We finally had to go to the main cafeteria in Bristol and film it there. So our final set was actually our 3rd choice.
Thanks to Seth Ader for his time and thoughtfulness in talking to us about “This is SportsCenter” and the process that goes into making it. If you haven’t yet seen the new spot, you can read yesterday’s post about it or watch below:
(Headline image courtesy of Getty Images via @daylife)