ESPN and ABC Prep a 'Christmasketball' Variety Show With John Legend on Dec. 25

'Come for the eggnog, stay for the ankle breakers'

Christmas variety shows were network TV staples in the 1960s and '70s, with artists such as Pat Boone, John Denver, Andy Williams and Perry Como crooning carols, goofing around in holiday sketches and hobnobbing with celebrity guests.

On Dec. 25, Disney-owned ESPN and ABC revive the spirit of such bygone fare with "Christmasketball." Billed as "a full-day Christmas variety show," the campaign features festive content starring John Legend and ESPN personalities including Rachel Nichols, Maria Taylor, Jalen Rose and Jay Williams.

Developed with R/GA, the effort promotes Christmas Day NBA coverage on the networks. "Christmasketball" content, both live and taped, will begin airing at noon during breaks across 12 hours of game telecasts and other programming.

"Come for the eggnog, stay for the ankle breakers," Legend quips in this promo clip, as his track "Merry Merry Christmas" plays in the background:

ESPN Presents "Christmasketball"

"Christmas Day has been a focal point for us," ESPN senior director of sports marketing Michael Kopech tells Muse. "The NBA has done a fantastic job of lining up must-see matchups on a day when families are together and looking for something to do after the presents are opened."

For the past few seasons, a goofy Santa Claus served as the face of the network's Dec. 25 NBA programming. "It was a great campaign, but after five years, we'd made just about every Christmas joke you can make, and it was time to move on," Kopech says. 

ESPN sought a fresh concept that would fit into its overarching "Ball for All" platform stressing the inclusivity of hoop fandom. "With that in mind, our agency, R/GA, pitched the idea of an old-school Christmas variety show, because what's more inclusive than that?" Kopech says.

As for Legend's involvement, "from the voice to the charisma to the ugly Christmas sweater, he's the full package," Kopech says. "And he happens to be a Lakers fan, which makes this feel all the more authentic. Also, Pat Boone wasn't available." 

"Music is vital to our connection with fans," adds Laura Gentile, svp of marketing, ESPN. "Who other than John Legend would we want to join us for Christmas? He aligns perfectly with Christmas and the holiday spirit. We welcome fans to celebrate this special day of NBA action with us." 

ESPN believes the creative approach "will wrap fans in a warm and cozy sweater and encourage them to stay with us from the first ball to the last, regardless of the reason they watch," Kopech says. "Christmas Day is the single biggest day of NBA consumption throughout the regular season, so it's important that we highlight that there's a little something for everyone, not just the core fans."

Last week, the league tossed up a star-studded, CGI-driven promo for the yuletide slate of games themed "Ballin' in a Christmas Wonderland."


Laura Gentile, SVP, Marketing
Emeka Ofodile, VP, Sports Marketing
Michael Kopech, Senior Director, Sports Marketing
Christina Amorose, Manager, Sports Marketing
Ruba Sbeah, Manager, Sports Marketing
Deontre Gray, Coordinator, Sports Marketing
Ryan Campbell, Senior Creative Director
Chris McClure, Senior Creative Director
Al Herrera, Producer
Edward Nieves, Editor
Adam Wanderman, Senior Designer

Felicia Zhang, Executive Strategy Director
Harry Peacham, Strategy Director
Tattiana Bamba, Senior Connections Planner
Aaron Harridge, Associate Strategy Director
David DeCheser, VP Group Executive Creative Director
Mike Donaghey, Executive Creative Director
Chris Joakim, Executive Creative Director
Chris Parker, Associate Creative Director
Jackson Harper, Associate Creative Director
Gabe Towles, Senior Designer
Brigit Hickey, Designer
Nicolina Jennings, Group Account Director
Arya Boghraty, Account Director
Madeleine Rogers, Account Manager
Jeff Skutnik, Group Production Director
Michael Moscardini, Executive Producer
Brandon Wachs, Associate Producer
Grace Wang, Product Manager
Perry Morton, Senior Content Producer
Sam Chung, Senior Content Producer
Christine White, Animator
Gavin Shapiro, Motion Design Director
Robert Paynter, Senior Animator
Pete Karam, Senior Sound Designer

David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is managing editor at Clio Awards.

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