Assessing ESPN’s regional sites

Who exactly is ESPN.com’s competition ?

For most of the site’s existence, the answer was pretty simple: SI.com, The Sporting News, CBSsports.com and more recently Yahoo! Sports. These are the giants of national sports journalism. And that has long been ESPN.com’s calling card.

More recently, however, ESPN.com has begun to compete with regional and local newspapers — and more specifically their sports sections. With its ESPN regional sites — Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and New York — the news organization is putting its seemingly limitless resources to use.

ESPN has hired scores of former local sports reporters, columnists and bloggers, many of whom are already familiar with their local sports landscape, to write for the ESPN.com regional sites. Not surprisingly, they have chosen some of the largest media markets (Chicago, L.A., New York) and most devoted sports towns (Boston and Dallas) as their first targets.

The ESPN regional sites look almost identical to the main ESPN.com page, which provides a sense of continuity. Instead of the national news roundup on the right column of the page there is “New York News” or “Chicago News.” Each sports team has its own landing page, and the teams are listed in a easy-to-find black bar that runs the width of the home page.

Also like the main ESPN.com page the regional sites each have a leading story with a photo or video. Content is regularly updated and is generally easier to find than on the ESPN.com home page. In this regard, ESPN.com’s regional pages have an advantage over the quite busy ESPN.com main page. There’s less clutter on the regional pages, especially toward the bottom of the page, which makes for a better user experience.

ESPN.com’s regional sites might be competing with local newspapers or television stations, but they cover the local teams in a different way. It’s not clear that there are beat writers who only cover a specific team. There are, however, blogs for specific teams that include entries from a variety of writers. ESPN.com promotes these team-specific blogs, and writers contribute to many different blogs.

Will ESPN.com continue to compete with local sports sites in other major markets and some medium-sized markets? I’d bet on it.

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