In the past year, ESPN launched four city Web sites designed to cater exclusively to fans in the Chicago, Boston, Dallas, and Los Angeles markets. ESPNNewYork.com is launching tomorrow, April 2.
The sites are an aggressive push from the “World Wide Leader in Sports” to boost market shares, gobble up local advertising and bring in more revenue. But they are also taking advantage of something else: the impending doom of the newspaper industry.
As of now, newspapers have the resources and manpower to consistently beat the local ESPN reporters, but declines in newspaper readership and ad revenue could give ESPN the edge it needs to become the new sports page in towns across the country.
Gabriel Sherman wrote an excellent piece in GQ (“The Citywide Leader in Sports?“) that highlights the juxtaposition of local papers trying to avoid fateful deaths, and a multimedia powerhouse trying to transform into a grassroots organisation:
- Right now the biggest problem for the sites is a lack of rooted establishment. As Sherman highlights, reporters for ESPNDallas.com not only have to write the articles, but are also responsible for podcasts, video, and local ESPN radio production. And, unlike their newspaper counterparts who work off a 5 pm deadline, online news’ must be published in real time. So far this has resulted in a lack of reporting that is spread too thin.
- Yet, this multimedia focus is what could eventually put ESPN ahead. “More than any major media company, ESPN excels at re-purposing and cross-promoting its coverage across every medium, from television to mobile to video games, to local sports,” Sherman writes. “The fiefdoms and turf wars that have hobbled so many media companies are largely absent at ESPN.”
The launch of ESPNNewYork.com will likely indicate whether the ESPN sites have what it will take to succeed. As Sherman points out: ESPNNewYork.com will have to:
[B]attle not just The New York Times but also an infamously nasty sports-radio and tabloid culture with a deep bench of opinionated sports columnists who would love nothing more than to take a high-priced carpetbagger down a notch.
We’re willing to at least refresh ESPN’s sites to see if they are winning the war. Well, that’s what we’ll be telling our boss while we check out live sports scores, anyway.
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