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As the CEO of Starwave in the early 1990s, former Microsoft and Apple executive Mike Slade helped start ESPN.com.

So, when the groundbreaking sports network launched a new ad campaign earlier this year featuring a “Mike Slade, ESPN director of digital innovation & integration” on stage talking about ESPN’s new app functionality, we were left scratching our heads.

That was not the Slade we knew, who boasts a distinctive head of white hair.

So, we wondered: Was that a dramatization with a poorly-cast actor trying to represent the real Mike Slade? Or was there really an employee at the company who held that title that shared the same name with the ESPN.com creator?

We didn’t know, but something weird was going on here.

The ad parodies a classic Steve Jobs keynote, with plenty of sports hilarity and the booming drums to create an atmosphere of an epic launch event. There are plenty of mascots, and even a Seattle Sounders fan blowing a vuvuzela.

The real Mike Slade who helped launch ESPN.com more than 20 years ago
The real Mike Slade who helped launch ESPN.com more than 20 years ago

The real Mike Slade, a venture capitalist with Seattle-based Second Avenue Partners, has been getting some good laughs out of the ad, which touts the ability to watch video streaming content in the ESPN app.

“People kept emailing me and asking if I knew that there was another Mike Slade at ESPN, or if I had a new job, or if I knew about the ad,” Slade tells GeekWire. Even after he posted an article explaining the concept behind the ad on his Facebook feed, people still didn’t understand what was going on.

Turns out, Slade was in on the joke all along, telling ESPNFrontRow.com that the ad appealed to his “quirky sense of humor” because it included “a backhand compliment and kind of an inside joke, all combined into one great spot.”

In an email to GeekWire, Slade — who consulted on the new app functionality and has remained friends with many of the ESPN execs — said he loves the ad campaign.

“The campaign makes fun of the ‘reverence’ attached to Steve Jobs/Apple keynotes and melds it with the crazy atmosphere of a sporting event,” said Slade, who doesn’t mind that it pokes a bit of fun at him as well. “It’s just about perfect.”

A lot has changed at ESPN.com since Slade ran the show back in the 90s, when it came on the scene under the name ESPNet SportsZone. Tech historians may recall that the original concept behind ESPN.com, and many other online media properties sprung from Slade’s Starwave, which was based in Bellevue and backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

In the post on ESPNFrontRow, Alexander Green, director of marketing at ESPN, said that they thought it was fun to include a fictitious Slade in the ad. “We felt like it was a cool opportunity to pay homage to someone who played such a pivotal role in our company’s history,” Green said.

Slade said he was honored to be included, and have a fictional character named after him, even if the nerdy actor who portrayed him lacked much hair on his head.

“At age 58, my full head of white hair is one of my few remaining assets,” said Slade.

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