ESPN Eyeing the Future

18 09 2009

ESPN is embracing the shift to the internet, unlike many of its fellow media outlets.  

The Worldwide Leader in Sports is in the midst of a campaign to launch local sports sites in major cities across the country.  ESPN started its pilot site in Chicago on April 13, and it quickly became the city’s top-visited sports website.  ESPNChicago.com logged an unrivaled 1.4 million minutes from 590,000 unique visitors, according to comScore, an Internet measurement company.

The site is a compilation of information on all Chicago sports, delivering real-time scores, top stories, radio, and podcasts from local reporters, columnists, and bloggers.  It focuses not only on the city’ seven professional sports teams, but also on regional colleges and high schools as well.

One of the most popular features of the site is a Chicago-oriented online Sports Center, complete with ESPN SC anchors.

ESPNChicago.com (http://tinyurl.com/loz4hb)

After their success in Chicago, ESPN launched its ESPNBoston.com site yesterday, and recently announced plans to hit Dallas, New York, and Los Angeles within the coming months. 

“Our commitment to expand ESPN’s network of localized sites is a testament to our dedication to serve sports fans and their passion,” said Marc Horine, VP of digital partnerships and sales development/ESPN digital media, to Radio Business Report (http://tinyurl.com/mxfqxg)  “We understand that local sports interests ignite strong passions, and Dallas, New York, and Los Angeles have some of the most storied franchises and fan bases in history.”

ESPN is expecting these dedicated fan bases to serve it well.  And judging from the Chicago site’s popularity, they will.  ESPN’s costs for moving into these markets are minimal; to cut expenses it is building off its local radio stations’ websites and utilizing many of its current contributors – such as Bill Simmons, whose relevant columns will appear on the Boston site. 

Despite this limited investment, however, the new local sites could prove to be a rewarding move for ESPN.  Their unrivaled brand name and technological and financial means to distribute content cannot go unnoticed by potential advertisers. 

So far the Chicago and Boston sites have drawn in a balanced number of local and national advertisers, including StubHub and MillerCoors.  And typical of ESPN’s past sales, “most of the buys have had some type of integrated element, blending some mixture of radio, online display, audio and video insertion, podcasts, and in some cases, on-site activation,” said Eric Fisher in his article in the Sports Business Journal (http://tinyurl.com/my4crl).  “Local subscription offerings and other such premium content elements are not currently in the mix.”

But what is in the mix: new mobile applications.  Sometime this fall ESPN will launch several mobile applications, including a Blackberry version of its

MVP service, a fantasy football iPhone application, and an ESPN radio application for both the iPhone and Blackberry, said Fisher in the Sports Business Daily (http://tinyurl.com/lu9upo).  The applications will either be one-time paid downloads or one-time subscription costs. 

“We see this as a major growth area for us, and importantly, people seem more likely to pay for content on mobile than they are for the PC, so that opens up additional opportunities,” said John Zehr, ESPN Senior VP/Digital Media Production, in the Sports Business Daily.

While ESPN has yet to report any earnings from the Chicago site, the sports media company has seemingly discovered a winning combination for their future.  By embracing new technologies and by delivering fans’ favorite content through a number of different streams, ESPN has reaffirmed its position as the Worldwide Leader in Sports for a long time to come.

 

 

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