ESPN Going Local and Newspapers Could Take a Hit




ESPNAs a sports fan I don’t get to write much about sports and Internet marketing. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure why that is but I’ll work on that later. What we have covered extensively here at Marketing Pilgrim is the decline and fall of the Printed Empire; the newspaper. Today, in fact stands to be a rough day again as the Boston Globe workers agrees to more cuts to keep the paper in print. Even more ominous, however, is the announcement that ESPN, sports media’s 900 lb gorilla, is planning to go local.

While it is happening in only major markets first, ESPN is going to expand on the test that it has run in the in the Chicago market with ESPN Chicago into Los Angeles, New York and Dallas. One of the last strongholds that any major metro ‘local’ newspaper has is its sports coverage. Many people will buy a paper just for that reason (stop rolling your eyes, sports fans are different). The New York Times reports that the Chicago experiment has set the stage for a battle that could be the death knell for already struggling entities like the Chicago Tribune. In addition, there are local editions of SportsCenter to compete against the local TV market as well.

Chicago news outlets, which have some experience competing directly with ESPN, acknowledge that the threat is real.

“We are taking ESPN’s marketing push seriously, and we are looking forward to the local sports turf battle in the weeks and months ahead,” said Bill Adee, The Chicago Tribune’s editor for digital media.

In less than three months, ESPN Chicago has become the city’s top sports site, attracting about 590,000 unique visitors in June, according to data from comScore, an Internet measurement company. Second place went to The Tribune’s online sports section with 455,000 unique visitors.

It took just three months to leap frog the Second City’s most venerable newspaper in the online arena. Advertisers will have to take notice and now the revenue that the Tribune realized from its online presence will be threatened by ESPN’s offering. The effect thus far is not actually taking audience away from the newspaper’s online presence but it is certainly slowing growth. That growth, however, may be the life support that most papers need to survive so this threat is very real.

ESPN has plans to dig into the local sports scene down to the high school level and is even offering tools to help manage sports leagues. There is also talk of partnering with local newspapers in content sharing arrangements dependent on the market. None of this comes without potential downside of course. Cost and effective coverage being chief among them. In Chicago, however, the advertisers are taking notice.

ESPN, of course, is going after local ad dollars, as well as readers. Chicago Lincoln-Mercury dealers, Hilton Hotels of Chicago, MillerCoors and Hawthorne Race Course have been among ESPN Chicago’s advertisers.

No matter how this shakes out, Internet marketers will have to take notice of such a move by a national player. What if CNN or FoxNews decided that they could localize their content as well? How much room would be left for newspapers then? Sure you will always have your newspaper loyalists but are there enough of those to sustain operations for a major news operation?

As if the news couldn’t get worse for the reporters of the news.