ESPN the Travel Agent?

October 18, 2006

Iím a sucker for a great brand extension.  When done right, a good brand extension feels so natural.  ESPN has scored a number of big hits here ñ from ESPN The Magazine (media extension) to ESPN Zone (theme restaurant) to ESPN X-Games (sporting event).

I am not sold, however, on ESPN SportsTravel,   which launched earlier this year.  Plenty of fans out there want to travel to follow their teams or alma maters.  Plenty more want to embark on road trips for the World Cup or Wimbledon or the World Series of Poker. And it certainly makes sense for ESPN to help them do that. 

The problem comes to execution.  ESPN as an information source on sports travelñthe must-see arenas, endless college football schedules, schedules of marathons around the world, surrounding happenings for any major sporting eventñis a role that plays directly to ESPNís promise of being a sports destination on both a very broad level and on a very targeted level.  But ESPN SportsTravel kind of promises more than just information.  So, ESPN has partnered with Orbitz to drive the reservation/booking process for travel to any of the events they talk about.  

My problem is that once Orbitz is involved, this all ceases to be an ESPN experience.  Why muddy up the ESPN brand with the logistical mess that comes with scheduling connecting flights to South Bend or Churchill Downs, or finding the cheapest hotel rooms on the Big Island for Ironman competition?  

ESPNís take on the perfect road trip for a weekís worth of minor league baseball or a travelogue rating the best tailgating scenes in the college football can deliver on the ESPN promise in spades.  Yet delivering people to under the guise of the ESPN brand can only bring trouble.  Iím sure there are referral fees for ESPN.  And it all may have seemed like a good idea at the time.  But ESPN would probably do their brand and their fans a service by staying out of the logistics of travel planning (none of which includes tickets to these events, by the way) and focusing extension efforts on experiences over which they can exert more complete brand control.

Jonathan Paisner -

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