Thursday, April 01, 2010

ESPNNewYork.com to debut with familiar names midnight Thursday-NY Times

"A year ago, ESPN started going local. For an empire devoted to conquering the United States and the world on its multitude of media platforms, Web sites focused on major cities offered a way to fulfill its manifest destiny.

First came the site in Chicago, then debuts in Boston, Dallas and Los Angeles.

  • And at midnight on Thursday, ESPNNewYork.com was scheduled to make its debut.

New York is the most crowded and clamorous of the local markets that ESPN has stormed, alive with numerous newspaper Web sites in the city and suburbs and those of WFAN radio and three regional sports networks, SNY, YES and MSG.

  • The existing site for ESPN 1050, the empire’s local radio station, will be embedded in ESPNNewYork.com, the same setup that exists in Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles.

As in other markets, ESPNNewYork has lured people from the ailing newspaper industry, including the columnist Ian O’Connor from The Record of Bergen County; Wallace Matthews from Newsday to cover the Yankees; and Adam Rubin from The Daily News to cover the Mets. Jane McManus, formerly of the downsized Journal News in New York’s northern suburbs, is the N.F.L. blogger. And two former Newsday columnists, Johnette Howard and Shaun Powell, who were laid off in a 2008 staff purge, will be regular contributors. ...

  • “The last thing I want to do is to drive a stake into the heart of an incredibly important industry,” said King, a former newspaperman. “We’re making sure ESPN is doing everything possible to be where the fans are.”

ESPN is too powerful to doubt. Its brand is part of sports fans’ consciousness. So it is not surprising that the New York site will start up with sponsors like StubHub, Anheuser-Busch and Audi, and that its four local sites have attracted a lot of users. Nielsen reported that unique visitors in February ranged from 1.09 million in Chicago to 1.6 million in Dallas. ComScore placed the range at 840,000 in Chicago to 1.6 million in Dallas.

  • Those visiting ESPNBoston.com spend more time strolling through it than visitors do at any of the other ESPN locals.

“My expectations for unique visitors were very modest when we started and now that’s absolutely changed,” King said. “We’re very aggressive now, telling people that our standards are very high now.”

  • The ESPN sites’ rapid growth in traffic in a year or less contrasts with Nielsen’s tally of the relatively modest size of the unique audiences who perused MSG (175,000), SNY (132,000) and WFAN (156,000) in February.

Steve Raab, the president of SNY, said that the Mets-controlled network has depended heavily on original content, like Mets and Jets blogs, to build its audience (which Nielsen said rose to 256,000 last July). “We think our strengths are not easily duplicated,” Raab said, adding that ad sales at the site have been growing at 20 percent annually....

  • Mike James, the sports editor of The Los Angeles Times, said that traffic to sports news on the paper’s Web site had been unaffected by the presence of ESPNLosAngeles, since last December.

“ESPN’s brand is certainly something we all take seriously, but I think we’ve got a very comprehensive and original package on our website that gives us unmatched breadth and depth of coverage here,” he wrote in an e-mail message.

  • At The Chicago Tribune, online traffic for its sports coverage is up from last year, said Mike Kellams, the assistant managing editor for sports. He credited the startup of a new site, chicagobreakingsports.com, for that performance. “Did ESPN’s arrival cause our site to happen? Nah,” he said in an e-mail message. “But they might have inspired us a little to finally plug it in. So I thank them for that.”

How long will competitors — especially those with core products made with ink and paper — keep thanking the Bristol Empire? For now, that question is unanswerable."

Reference: GQ article on ESPN city sites, 4/1/10, "ESPN expands to local markets," by Gabriel Sherman


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