There is an interesting article in this week’s Sports Business Journal (subscription required) regarding ESPN’s venture into local sports.
ESPN calls itself the Worldwide Leader in Sports, but it’s the company’s locally driven ambitions that have the sports media world talking and could have a seismic effect on how fans consume news about their favorite teams.
The company today will launch ESPNBoston.com, the second of its locally oriented sports sites following a successful spring launch in Chicago. Similar to the Chicago venture, the Boston site will feature a mix of beat coverage on the local pro, college and high school teams; audio content from ESPN’s 890 AM sports talk radio; Boston-oriented columns and podcasts from Bill Simmons, Peter Gammons, Michael Smith and others; a locally oriented online version of “SportsCenter”; and locally driven social media functions, among other material.
The Boston arrival, which had not been publicly discussed until late August, puts the ESPN effort into one of the country’s most passionate and hypercompetitive sports media markets. It also marks the beginning of a marked acceleration for ESPN’s local play, with a Dallas site slated for a late September or early October launch, and New York and Los Angeles destinations scheduled to follow early next year….
The initiative in part seeks to exploit the gap in locally driven sports coverage created by the historic and ongoing economic woes of the newspaper industry and the resulting reduction of content. To that end, ESPNChicago.com has been greeted with some early success: Its tally of more than 700,000 unique visitors and 1.7 million minutes of time spent on the site in July was up 19 percent from June on both counts and up 87 percent in audience size from May, according to comScore.
If local newspapers weren’t worried before, they should be now. The only thing that keeps them in business is superior local coverage. The economies of scale the ESPN has in covering sports on the web give it a significant advantage over existing outlets. I do not expect local coverage to disappear, but I will not be surprised to see the best local-market writers to be hired away by ESPN. Other online sports platforms like Sports Illustrated and Yahoo! may follow suit. This is all-good for sports fans, who typically prefer local coverage.