By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
December 20, 2010: ESPN was not around when the UCLA men's basketball team, led by coach John Wooden, set an NCAA Division I mark by winning 88 consecutive games from Jan. 30, 1971 until a 71-70 loss to Notre Dame on Jan. 19, 1974. But the "worldwide leader in sports" is making up for that with an extensive full-court press that will begin hours before University of Connecticut women's basketball team seeks to win its 89th consecutive game on Dec. 21 against Florida State. UConn's streak began in April 2008.
The game will be played at XL Center in Hartford, which might eventually rank among the venue's all-time highlights. Good news for XL Insurance, also based in Hartford, which signed six-year naming rights in 2007 for the home to both UConn men's and women's hoops and the Big East Women's Basketball championship through 2011.
The game has been moved from ESPNU to ESPN2, affording the players and corporate sponsors a much wider potential audience: about 99.5 million households for ESPN2 versus about 73 million for ESPNU. ESPN and ESPN.com also will allot chunks of time and space leading up to, during and then after the game.
The game is part of a larger umbrella sponsorship, "Holiday Hoops presented by Kay Jewelers", that encompasses all of ESPN's college basketball games from Dec 18-24. Via media buys with ESPN, advertisers with multiple spots during the Connecticut-FSU game include Pizza Hut, Audi, Ford, Toyota, Anheuser-Busch, Best Buy and Macy's, according to ESPN.
New York Life has a season-long marketing deal with both the UConn Huskies men's and women' basketball team, which includes an on-court logo, courtside and baseline signage boards. This will expand during the game on Dec. 21, when New York Life will have TV spots airing during the national broadcast, banners, a display presence at the main entrances to distribute information, will receive public address announcements, exposure on the video board and LED signage boards and its logo on the front cover of the game day program.
In addition to New York Life, other marketing partners of the two-time defending NCAA champion UConn Huskies are AT&T, Toyota, People's United Bank, Nike and Dunkin' Donuts. Dunkin' Donuts also is an official partner of XL Center, along with such companies as Anheuser-Busch (Bud Light), Verizon Wireless, The Hartford, Geico, Bob's Discount Furniture and Hilton Hartford. XL Center seats about 16,300 for basketball games, and the event is sold out, according to UConn.
Deals for the Husikes are handled by UConn Sports Marketing, the multimedia rights partner for the University of Connecticut Athletics and an IMG College property. Jeffrey A. Hathaway, is UConn's director of athletics.
The team is lead by Maya Moore, a projected No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft. Head coach Geno Auremma is in his 26th season. UConn's last loss was April 6, 2008, 82-73, to Stanford.
According to ESPN, included among the highlights leading up the game, scheduled to begin at 7 PM ET, are:
• ESPNU will conduct five consecutive hours of UConn programming prior to the ESPN2 pregame special Dec. 21.
• ESPN's Women's Basketball's Final Four studio team of Trey Wingo, Kara Lawson and Carolyn Peck will host from XL Center an hour-long pre-game show on Dec. 21 beginning at 6 PM ET, as well as additional post-game segments. The Final Four announcing team of Dave O’Brien and Doris Burke will call the game, with reporting by former Connecticut All-American Rebecca Lobo.
• ESPNU will air UConn’s Record Run: UConn Legends Roundtable, a half-hour show starting at 5 PM ET. Doris Burke will host a forum with former Connecticut All-Americans Lobo, Jen Rizzotti and Sue Bird, in addition to current UConn All-American Maya Moore.
• UConn’s Record Run: Debating the Streak, a half-hour special, will follow on ESPNU at 5:30 PM ET. Hosted by Trey Wingo, the show will feature discussions about UConn’s streak from hosts of such ESPN programming as Pardon the Interruption, First Take, SportsNation, Mike & Mike and Jim Rome is Burning.
• On Dec. 22, UConn’s national championship wins over Stanford (2010) and Louisville (2009) will air several times on ESPNU, in addition to the Huskies’ games from this season vs. Baylor (original airdate Nov. 16), vs. Ohio State (Dec. 19) and the potential record-setting game vs. Florida State (Dec. 21).
Meanwhile, Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell said that downtown Hartford buildings Hartford 21 and Aetna would display lights in the blue and while colors of UConn and in a statement urged "all UConn fans to show their pride and support by wearing blue and white to the office or in classrooms."