Behind X Ambassadors & Tom Morello's ESPN College Football Theme Song: Exclusive Video

Catie Laffoon
X Ambassadors and Tom Morello.

How Interscope teamed with the sports network to soundtrack the road to the playoff.

For decades, college football's soundtrack has been one of marching bands, cheerleaders and roaring fans. But lately, it's been getting an update via a partnership between Interscope and ESPN that's brought some of contemporary music's top acts to the gridiron. 

After launching the initiative last year, Interscope and ESPN's relationship hit its stride in 2016, highlighted by X Ambassadors and Tom Morello's "Collider," which became an anthem on the sports network. Elsewhere, throughout the season, music from artists on Interscope's roster -- as well as Universal Nashville, Downtown Records and Universal Latin -- was debuted on the network and featured in special placements, while harboring a holistic ecosystem for live performances at games leading up to the College Football Playoff National Championship.   

"What we have in college football and what we have with the College Football Playoff, it's not just a sporting event, it's a cultural event, it's a mainstream event," says Emeka Ofodile, senior director of marketing at ESPN. "And we believe that tapping into genres like music can help us extend to tell the college football story to new audiences and get different audiences to sample what college football is all about and what this whole college football big event is all about."

ESPN's intent in working with Interscope was to soundtrack its college football season with a partnership that extended beyond standard licensing deals, hoping they might grow the sport's impact on current fans and potential new ones. For Interscope, the aim was similar in advancing its artists' profiles with more points of access for exposure -- something Steve Berman, vice chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M, says is a goal across the company. 

"You can't just rest on the idea that your promotion department is going to hit it out of the park," says Bermen. "You have to surround that success with as many avenues for exposure as you can for your artists so that we can build that fan base and we can build the relationship between the fans and that artist. For us, we feel for the right artist there's such a compliment between ESPN culturally and the music and it really helped solidify the foundation of those artists."

Engaging artists such as DJ Snake, The Band Perry, The Struts, Jamie N Commons and more for various promotions, as well as music from Selena Gomez, Keith Urban, OneRepublic, SchoolboyQ, Band of Horses, J Balvin and more, Interscope and ESPN aimed to enhance aspects of the season's stories with the right musical accompaniments throughout the way.

"It's not just about putting music to college football, but how do we create a musical experience with the network that's very collaborative?" says Berman, who praised Interscope's head of sports licensing & marketing David Nieman and ESPN's music director Kevin Wilson for their work on making the partnership a success. "The relationship only grew stronger and we were able to really work together and try things and we're thrilled with the results."

They key to this year's successful relationship for ESPN and Interscope, both sides say, was developing programming where all parties involved -- particularly the artists -- were invested in the content and its promotion. 

Probably the best example of that was the use of X Ambassadors and Morello's "Collider," which is now documented in a new promotional video premiering exclusively with Billboard (see below). The artists and song possessed the right qualities to make it work, from the theme to the hard-hitting, gritty rock and roll attitude, all playing into the sort of story they wanted to tell. 

"We thought the theme of 'Collider' matched up perfectly with this whole idea of the road to the college playoff, because what you have in college football is that every weekend teams are colliding to be the final four semifinalists," says Ofodile. "So we thought there couldn't be a better soundtrack that told this season-long story. And the song has some edge and rock to it, and those are the kinds of things that we're seeing every weekend at college football -- it's intense and it's hard and there's a lot at stake."

Collider - College Football Playoff from ESPNMediaZone on Vimeo.