ESPN is indulging in the nation’s obsession with the NFL by allowing viewers to binge-watch the sophomore season of “We the Fans,” which follows the devoted fans of America’s team, the Dallas Cowboys. Last year, Season 1 of “We the Fans” featured the Chicago Bears.
The reality-style series launches with all four hour-long episodes airing back-to-back Thursday night from 7 p.m. ET. After each episode airs, they are then instantly available digitally on the ESPN app and ESPN Video on Demand.
“We’re trying a lot of different ways to get our content out to consumers on different platforms. This is one I personally like because I love to binge,” Libby Geist, vice president and executive producer of ESPN Films and Original Content, told TheWrap.
While the Oscar-winning reality documentary “O.J.: Made in America” aired on back-to-back nights in 2016, this is the first time ESPN has stacked episodes for an original series in this way.
“We’re aware of changing habits and know people sit down and binge things, and I’m lucky enough to work at a part of the company where we are able to provide content like that,” Geist continued. “As a fan myself, part of me craves that too as I still stay up at night binge-watching other shows.
“It is important for us to bring storylines that uplift and support the ESPN live events,” she continued, and with the 2018 NFL Draft in Dallas airing live on ESPN at the end of this month, the timing for the launch of “We the Fans” is no coincidence. “There will be a lot of excitement around the Cowboys in general … I think people in Dallas are going to go crazy over it,” Geist predicted. “We were able to find some very dedicated fans and very different story lines around them,” she said of the Cowboys’ diehards who they followed during the 2017 season.
One who really stood out to producers was a man named Kevin Martinez, whose home in Houston was badly damaged in Hurricane Harvey last September. “It just showed that although he was at the Cowboys’ games and tailgating with his friends, going home for these fans is very different for every person. We were able to tell a pretty unrelated story to Dallas but his heart was there while he was going through something else, and this football team helped him get through that tough time.”
Other colorful characters featured on Season 2 include a 73-year-old season ticket-holder who is a motherly figure to Cowboys players; a gay couple from Arlington, Texas; and a family from Massachusetts that travels to Dallas for most home games.
Thursday marks another landmark event for ESPN with the launch of streaming service ESPN+, as the network best known for traditional sports programming cements its foot firmly in the digital landscape.
“With ESPN+ on the horizon, original series are more and more attractive because we can really hook people on different platforms — so that has been a game-changer,” Geist said.
The very first project to debut on ESPN+ is new “30 for 30” documentary “The Last Days of Knight,” which tells the story of a young basketball coach named Bob Knight, who first came to Indiana University in 1971. The film, directed by Robert Abbott, follows Knight over multiple decades as he becomes not only a coaching god but also the subject of accusations, denials and dark discoveries.
“It is exciting for us [ESPN Films] to be seen as one of the shiny objects our bosses want to dangle to kick off ESPN+,” Geist told TheWrap of the doc that will be exclusive to the new direct-to-consumer sports streaming service the moment it launches. “Being involved with this brand has been such a gift, so I think having a ’30 for 30’ on ESPN+ for minute one is exciting and hopefully helps draw people to a really great product.”
As for why “Knight” is the launch project for ESPN+, again it was all about timing. “We looked at the films we had in development and production, and with March Madness just finishing, we knew we could get serious buzz about it.”
The success of “OJ,” which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature last year, has opened multiple doors for the “30 for 30” team, which was founded in 2009 by Connor Schell (now ESPN’s executive vice president, content) and Bill Simmons.
“We are constantly surprised with who takes our phone calls now post-‘OJ.’ They know it is not another quick sports story or TV movie, but an in-depth, well-told film that we’re going to put on every platform that we can. We’re taken seriously now, which is nice, that’s for sure!
“‘OJ’ was such an experiment for us in terms of the length [at seven hours, 47 minutes], and questions of ‘how are we going to get it on TV?’ ‘How are we going to get people to binge it?'” Geist said. “We were obviously really pleased with how well that did and how wide it reached, so we’re more open to experiment — to do longer films, documentary series, podcasts or 10-minute films. We’re just looking for great stories.”
“We the Fans” premieres Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.