If you watched the much-hyped college football opener on Saturday night between Alabama and Florida State, and didn’t change the channel during halftime, you noticed ESPN anchor Stan Verrett interrupt the ABC halftime show with a “SportsCenter Right Now update.”
Verrett talked for less than 90 seconds, entirely about baseball highlights—in the middle of a college football game. It was likely jarring to some viewers. But the hit was part of a larger experiment ESPN is rolling out across every single one of its daytime shows and in halftime of primetime games on both ESPN and ABC.
“SportsCenter Right Now” is an effort to refresh the ailing SportsCenter franchise, and to catch up to the digital era, in which the typical fan can find highlights of a game on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook, and thus may not see the need for SportsCenter anymore.
I hate @abc for subjugating me to Sportscenter at half time. I avoid ESPN at all costs.
— DC (@dwcowell) September 3, 2017
The updates are a live-television equivalent of the SportsCenter updates that have already run on ESPN Radio for years, twice an hour during key time slots. They are meant to fill in listeners or viewers on game scores or breaking news, but they will also serve the purpose of reminding sports fans (especially on ABC) that SportsCenter has them covered.
Anchor Toni Collins will host all of the daytime SportsCenter Right Now segments, while a rotation of available SportsCenter anchors will handle the primetime hits. (Below is one that ran in First Take last week.)
Rob King, ESPN’s head of news programming (including SportsCenter), says the opportunity with the segments is to share news both hard and soft: “To say, ‘This just happened,’ and also to say, ‘You’re interested in this other thing, and we have 30 seconds of video to engage you in this thing you’re interested in.'” An example of the latter, softer category: something inflammatory that UCLA basketball dad LaVar Ball just said publicly.
The segments debuted last week in First Take, both on main ESPN, and then in halftime on ABC last weekend. This week, they will also start airing in the re-air episodes of First Take on ESPN2.
The segments are meant to be digital-first by hitting ESPN.com, the ESPN app, and social media immediately after they air—but the segments that have run so far have not gone online.
The digital rollout begins next week, and will be “gradual,” according to a spokesperson. Once fully deployed, by January, the updates will appear multiple times per hour in all daytime programs and will run simultaneously on ESPN.com and in the home-screen video player of the ESPN app. They’ll hit social shortly after that.
ESPN and parent company Disney hope the hits will inject some new life into the SportsCenter brand—right now.
Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.