During today's noon edition of ESPN's SportsCenter, anchor John Anderson will broadcast live from Liberal, Mo., to celebrate softball player Brooke Bearden. As a Liberal High School senior, she suffered a debilitating stroke, but returned to the game just six months later.
SportsCenter revamped the school's softball field in her honor, with a new scoreboard plus freshly painted seats and fences that bear her name. With that activation, Bearden becomes the 10th young amateur athlete feted by the iconic program as part of "SportsCenter Top 10 Day," a campaign timed to Oct. 10 (10/10) and developed with ad agency Preacher.
The show has long featured amazing plays by young everyday athletes from around the country as part of its daily "Top 10" segment, but wanted to ratchet up its connection to local sports in a more meaningful, long-lasting way. So, in recent weeks, crews traveled to the hometowns of 10 young players, creating custom installations and tributes based on their achievements.
Today, SportsCenter will air segments about all 10 athletes featuring footage of their notable plays and coverage of those local activations.
Here's a great teaser with some of those highlights:
More young players will be welcomed into the Top 10 club moving forward, with Preacher providing honorees with digital assets to share across social media.
Client and agency execs fielded some questions about the campaign:
Muse: Why go hyper-local for SportsCenter?
Jimmie Blount, ACD/art director, Preacher: ESPN came to us with the challenge of finding ways to reward young athletes who made it onto their SportsCenter Top 10 segment. Our research revealed that these young athletes wanted, above all else, to feel a part of something bigger than themselves. So, while the perception of SportsCenter Top 10 tended to be one of exclusivity, we knew that the greatest reward for these athletes was actually one of inclusivity. It shifted our entire perspective from seeing the Top 10 as just an elite class to viewing it as an inclusive club. Our idea was to bring the bright lights of SportsCenter beyond [ESPN's studios in] Bristol and into these kids' worlds in a big way.
What's the advantage for the brand?
Peter Mulally, director of brand marketing, ESPN: We knew from the get-go that we had the opportunity to inspire the next generation of SportsCenter fans by welcoming real, everyday Gen-Z athletes into the Top 10 club. A point we hit on early was changing the conversation from "Did you see that play on SportsCenter?" to "Did you see what SportsCenter did for that athlete?" We hope when the activations are broadcast to the world on SportsCenter Top 10 Day, fans see themselves and the power of inclusivity that sports can provide.
How did you choose the athletes?
Peter Mulally, ESPN: It was very much an equation of finding the right plays, the right people and the right locations. We were so fortunate to have such a big base to work from. With so many incredible moments and stories from the last year, it turned into a labor of love to find the right mix of diversity in sports and region.
How did you go about devising the hometown activations?
Jimmie Blount, Preacher: It all came down to making sure each installation was paying tribute to the play, the athlete and the town itself in a very bespoke and memorable way. Whether it was a full-sized padded outfield wall on Main Street in Berwick, Penn., to honor a softball player who earned her way on SportsCenter by making a fence-crashing catch—or a golden shovel installation for a volleyball player in Georgia who made a name for herself by "digging" impossible shots, we wanted to give each athlete a strong conceptual idea that could fully capture and commemorate their play.
We genuinely approached each piece not just as a cool installation, but as an opportunity to give these players and towns something that could live long beyond the Top 10 Day. It required us to really do our homework and fully understand the backstories of these kids and their plays. We had to strike the right balance between the premium aesthetic inherent in the SportsCenter brand and the authentic, grassroots experience this idea required. Although we were paying tribute to young athletes, we wanted to avoid getting too earnest and maintain the fun, playful personality that fans have long loved about SportsCenter and its anchors.
What were some challenges you faced?
Jimmie Blount, Preacher: Traveling to 10 towns across nine states over the course of five weeks certainly brought with it a number of challenges. We had to coordinate with local leaders, develop work in accordance with municipal ordinances and ensure overall safety with each execution. Of course, there were also some fun hurdles that we had to overcome to truly make this work feel meaningful and memorable. Whether it was figuring out how to rent a helicopter on a budget in Covington, Tenn., or finding a way to roll out a fully functioning SportsCenter-branded Zamboni in Eden Prairie, Minn., we had to make sure each local event and installation received the scale and excitement it deserved.
Below are the 10 young stars you'll see profiled on SportsCenter today:
• Brooke Bearden, 18, Liberal, Mo.
She returned to play for the Liberal High School Bulldogs softball squad just six months after suffering a stroke that left her ability to walk and speak in question. At noon ET, SportsCenter anchor John Anderson will lead a live broadcast from Liberal and unveil a completely revamped playing field in Bearden's honor.
• Fran Belibi, 18, Aurora, Co.
To celebrate a jaw-dropping one-handed dunk, SportsCenter made local hoops dunk friendly, and provided replica pairs of her signature goggles to neighborhood kids.
• Emery Dupes, 16, Marietta, Ga.
She leaped deep into the crowd to make a tremendous "dig" to save a point for her volleyball team. So, SportsCenter created a "Golden Shovel" installation at the conclusion of her high school's senior-night game.
• Kyle Ginn, 18, Covington, Tenn.
He bounced back from a torn ACL and additional adversity that kept him from playing most of his senior year, and ultimately hit a state-title clinching home run. SportsCenter commemorated his play and perseverance on the tallest building in town—the local water tower.
• Ashlynn Jolicoeur, 8, Whitby, Ontario, Canada
Told that baseball was a "boy's game," she chose to participate anyway. SportsCenter plastered her catchphrase "I just want to play baseball!" across a local batting cage while providing custom bats and helmets.
• James Kahaleua, 11, Wai'anae, Hawaii
This 11-year-old wide receiver made a full-extension, one-handed catch on-par with the pros, meriting a custom trophy-case installation at his school.
• Henry Parrish, 17, Miami
SportsCenter tricked out his football team's weight room with neon designs that appear to break through a wall, mirroring his ability to break tackles and rush for touchdowns.
• Jaila Roberts, 18, Pensacola, Fla.
To commemorate her game-winning half-court shot at the buzzer, the crew decorated a local court and marked the exact spot where she launched her epic shot.
• Katie Starr, 17, Berwick, Pa.
She made a home-run-saving, over-the-fence catch, crashing into the wall at top speed. SportsCenter cheekily transformed a downtown fence into a padded outfield wall in her honor.
• Teddy Townsend, 12, Eden Prairie, Minn.
From a face-off, he scored a game-saving goal with :02 left to send the match into overtime. SportsCenter transformed his home rink's Zamboni and paraded Teddy around the ice.
Senior Vice President, Marketing: Laura Gentile
Vice President, Brand Marketing: Seth Ader
Director, Brand Marketing: Peter Mulally
Manager, Brand Marketing: John Lobo
Coordinator, Brand Marketing: Spencer Shaev
Chief Creative Officer: Rob Baird
Chief Executive Officer: Krystle Loyland
Chief Strategy Officer: Seth Gaffney
ACD / Art Director: Jimmie Blount
Copywriter: Joe Hartley
Copywriter: Cory McCollum
Sr. Designer: Tim Praetzel
Brand Director: Heath Tavrides
Jr. Brand Manager: Lakyn Allen
Strategy Director: Doug Kleeman
Executive Agency Producer: Sarah Kerry
Executive Agency Producer: Jen Ganakas
Business Affairs: Abbi Press