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The Absurdity Olympics returns as ESPN brings back The Ocho

Your one-day home of Dodgeball appreciation: actual dodgeball, Ultimate Frisbee, Ping-Pong, darts, chess boxing, and people competing with KFC buckets on their head.

The Absurdity Olympics returns as ESPN brings back The Ocho

It was on the 18th day of June, 2004 that a comedy classic was thrust upon the movie-going masses. A film based on a sport of “violence, exclusion, and degradation.”

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Yes, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.

It’s a tale of how the eclectic membership of Average Joe Gym enters a Las Vegas dodgeball tournament to save their gym from being turned into a corporate health fitness chain. While the movie further burnished both Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn’s comedy flick bona fides, it also unintentional became branded content for ESPN.

See, that dodgeball tournament was being broadcast on the Worldwide Leader’s fictional ESPN8 “The Ocho,” which quickly became a pre-social media meme around odd or underexposed sporting passions.

Despite its appearance in a 14-year-old movie, The Ocho has lived on in the hearts and minds of fans. So last year the network took the opportunity on August 8th, (8/8, ESPN8, the Ocho . . . get it?) to fill some airtime during the prime-time sports doldrums of early August on its ESPNU channel (which is, what, ESPN 5?) with a lineup of sporting events that spiritually align with dodgeball.

Now with 8/8 upon us tomorrow, The Ocho returns.

This year, the 24-hour celebration will be on the higher profile ESPN2 channel (The Ocho! Moving up in the world), starting and ending with a screening of Dodgeball, and including a run of classic athletic contests such as chess boxing, saber combat, darts, competitive eating, sumo wrestling, Ultimate Frisbee, and more.

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It’s essentially a 24-hour brand-building exercise for the network, a chance to simultaneously exhibit its place as Worldwide Leader, while also being self-aware enough to make fun of itself. “In my eyes, it’s no different than our ‘This Is SportsCenter‘ campaigns over the years,” says Brent Colborne, ESPN’s senior director of programming and scheduling. “It’s about showing how we can have fun, get loose, and celebrate sports of all types.”

The success of last year’s effort prompted ESPN to boost The Ocho’s profile, putting it on what was once called The Deuce (and likely the root of the Ocho gag), and enlisting some of its other properties like SportsCenter and E:60 to create content around The Ocho’s sports.

It also got brand partner attention. Steve Kelly, KFC’s director of media and digital, says as soon as they saw The Ocho last year the brand knew it would be a perfect fit with its own penchant for absurd marketing. KFC is not only a presenting sponsor for this year’s festivities, it’s also creating content that will run as part of The Ocho’s programming. Basically, it’s people competing in sports with an empty chicken bucket on their head. For real.

“The goal of doing something like this, we’re hoping sports fans will be watching and thinking, ‘I wonder what my sport is like with a bucket on my head,'” says Kelly. “And then maybe, just maybe, they’d think, ‘I should maybe upload a video of me playing my sport with a bucket on my head.’ And then think, ‘Well, that’s really hard, so maybe I’ll just settle for ordering KFC for dinner.'”

To paraphrase the great Patches O’Houlihan, if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball, but it’s much tougher with a chicken bucket on your head.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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