ESPN & Big Red

Note: The following story, originally published on July 5, 2002, is reproduced at www.wkusports.com by permission of the Bowling Green Daily News

by Scott Sisco, Bowling Green Daily News

July 11, 2002

Bowling Green, Ky. - There's just something about that big red blob that dances around at Western Kentucky University events.

Big Red will again be seen across the nation in ESPN commercials beginning at the end of July. The commercials for SportsCenter's 25,000th show were filmed last month in Bristol, Conn.

Wade Raymer, who plays Big Red, was in a commercial for the sports network last year where he fell down carrying a bunch of tapes. That scene lasted only a few seconds.

"This year, the commercial is just for Big Red," Raymer said.

ESPN had about 14 scenes ready for the Western mascot, but just shot about six or seven.

"I'm not sure which one they'll use," Raymer said.

Mike Soltys, ESPN's director of communications, said the network wanted to do something different for the 25,000th show. In each promo, the staff tries to show that SportsCenter takes sports seriously, but they don't take themselves seriously.

Big Red will show the goofy way ESPN counted its 25,000 shows. One of the spots begin with ESPN personality Stuart Scott discussing the seriousness of the show with NBA player Elton Brand. It then cuts to Big Red counting tapes in a storage room.

"The Hilltopper is a lot of fun," Soltys said.

Big Red traveled in style to Bristol, flying in for the two-day shoot and being picked up at the airport in a limousine.

"They had a guy with a sign with my name on it," Raymer said. "That was pretty cool."

Several sports stars were in the studios also shooting commercials, Raymer said. NBA players Brand and Dikembe Mutombo and NFL star Michael Strahan were a few of the athletes.

There were other mascots in the studios also, but they didn't have their own commercials.

"They weren't special like me," Raymer said.

While at ESPN, Raymer walked around the SportsCenter set and hung out with several of the on-air personalities. They mainly talked about Western; Raymer told them to give the Hilltoppers more airtime.

Big Red has appeared in several ESPN commercials in the past. The marketing department must really like him, said John Zimmerman, marketing and promotions director for Western's athletics department.

"For some reason, Big Red has always been one of their favorites," Zimmerman said. "It was obviously a nice opportunity for us."

There are no plans for any other commercials now, but Big Red has been involved for three straight years, Zimmerman said.

"I think the opportunity is there," he said.

Raymer has had so much fun being Big Red, he is debating on taking some graduate courses in the spring after he graduates in December. That way, if the basketball team makes it back to the NCAA tournament, he can go to the cheer on the Hilltoppers.

Raymer said the trip to Bristol was fairly short - he flew out, went straight to work then flew back - but it was fun.

"It was definitely a good experience," Raymer said.

The 25,000th SportsCenter is scheduled to air at 10 p.m. CDT Aug. 25.