ESPN has struck an eight-year agreement with Special Olympics, extending its broadcast and global presenting sponsorship rights for Special Olympics World Games, World Winter Games and USA Games through 2027.
The Walt Disney Company and ESPN have built a nearly 35-year relationship with Special Olympics, working to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. In the recent years, they've propelled the relationship further with events like the Special Olympics 50th anniversary celebration and the global inclusion campaign "Game Changers," a yearlong short film initiative from ESPN. ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World will host the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games.
"The long-standing partnership between Special Olympics and ESPN goes beyond just broadcasting," said Mary Davis, CEO of Special Olympics. "This relationship is a catalyst for inclusion. ESPN is telling the stories of Special Olympics athletes at World Games, USA Games, and at some of the over 100,000 Special Olympics events happening around the world every year. In the past year alone, ESPN presented 40 short films showcasing our athletes, coaches, parents, and other game changers. Through its storytelling, media platforms and grant-making, ESPN is building positive attitudes toward people with intellectual disabilities and showing the world that the revolution is inclusion."
The collaboration between Special Olympics and ESPN has resulted in increased participation by 172 percent (1,815,000 participants as of 2019) and certification of coaches by 464 percent (119,000 coaches as of 2019). Since 2013, ESPN has provided more than $7 million in grants to support Unified Sports programs in 12 U.S. markets and 18 international countries, including India, China, Rwanda, Brazil, Argentina, Tanzania and Belgium.
"The relationship between ESPN and Special Olympics has been built on a bedrock of shared belief in the power of sports to positively impact lives and make lasting change in the world," said Jimmy Pitaro, president of ESPN and co-chair of Disney Media Networks. "In many ways, Special Olympics represents all that is great about sports."
This eight-year extension will help continue to build Unified Sports through grants across the world, as well as provide support to conduct Unified Sports in refugee camps, raise awareness of Unified Sports initiatives, recruit and train leaders at all levels and work to engage sports organizations to help support the expansion of Unified Sports.
ESPN's coverage of major Special Olympics events will continue to reach fans around the world via ESPN and Disney networks and media platforms in North, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Europe and the Middle East. In addition, Special Olympics and ESPN will work together, along with host-market broadcasters, to bring events to even more viewers through additional distribution.
"Together, along with the support of The Walt Disney Company, ESPN and Special Olympics have made real progress in spotlighting these incredible athletes and their achievements, bringing inspiring stories to millions of fans and driving meaningful growth in support of the Special Olympics movement," Russell Wolff, executive vice president and general manager of ESPN+, said.