ESPN sees growth in local sports

Bob Moon Dec 21, 2009

ESPN sees growth in local sports

Bob Moon Dec 21, 2009


Bob Moon: I foresee a big battle ahead for local sports fans in Los Angeles. I can make this prediction because I have ESPN. The media giant launched a Web site devoted to sports in L.A. today. It’s actually the fourth local Web offering from ESPN. Sites for Dallas, Boston and Chicago are already live. The sports network has gotten a good response to these local moves on the Internet and says it’s just getting started. ESPN calls itself the “world wide” leader in sports. But now it seems getting bigger means thinking smaller. John Ourand writes for the Sports Business Journal. John, good to have you with us.

JOHN OURAND: Thank you, Bob. Great to be here.

Moon: So why this push into the local markets for ESPN?

OURAND: Well, for ESPN there’s a lot of advertising revenue that they feel that they’re not getting at the local level. They have local radio stations, and they have a national broadcast, but they’re really not able to get their Web site in at a local level, and this is a way for them to go into markets and get those local ad dollars that they think they’re leaving on the table.

Moon: And they face competition from these regional sports networks as well, right?

OURAND: Well, the funny thing about their local push is that they face a lot of competition from a lot of places. They face it in the traditional newspaper area because newspapers are really where the local sports news is coming from. But they’re also getting it increasingly now from FOX and from Comcast who own regional sports networks. And this is really a push to see who owns the local sports fan. Right now FOX and Comcast feel like they really own those local sports fans, and so they’re trying to figure out how to keep ESPN at bay while still trying to keep those local fans.

Moon: So if the regional sports networks are crunching, who is going to be helped by this?

OURAND: Local sports journalists. This is the one area of journalism where people are really hiring and throwing money at it. But I think the local teams are really going to benefit from this because ESPN are going in. They’re hiring right now, and putting a reporter on every single local beat. FOX and Comcast are now hiring, and they’re putting reporters on local beats. And for the teams it couldn’t be better because you have more and more outlets writing about your team and your game, and it serves as perfect marketing just to get interest going and bringing people out to the games.

Moon: Well, this local branding, I’ve heard Disney executives say that ESPN is one of if not their biggest brands. What does this mean in terms of local advertising revenue? Is it going to pull more advertising revenue away from the newspapers, for example?

OURAND: I can’t see how it couldn’t unless it somehow makes the local advertising pie grow. And I can’t see that happening. I think what you’re going to see is ESPN going in and taking a lot of the local ad dollars. You’re going to see FOX and Comcast trying to beat ESPN to the punch, and they’re going to take a lot of the local ad dollars. And the newspapers are really trying to protect what they already have there, so newspapers are really going to be pretty severely disadvantaged by this.

Moon: And is this going to be a trend? Is ESPN going to be ubiquitous across the country at the local level?

OURAND: That’s ESPN’s plan is that they want to set up local Web sites in most major markets, and where they’re going to do that, Comcast is going to do that. And FOX is going to do that. And so you’re going to be seeing these sort of mini-wars play out in various markets. And just today it’s starting in L.A. so it will be interesting to watch.

Moon: Do you see the day that this is going to render newspaper sports coverage irrelevant?

OURAND: That’s tough to say. I live in Washington, and I think the Washington Post as a sports brand is a very strong sports brand. I think the Los Angeles Times, where you are, as a sports brands is a very strong sports brand. So I don’t know that it’s necessarily going to make them irrelevant, but it’s going to make them have to adapt, and it’s going to make them have to change, and it’s going to make them have to figure out how to beat these really big companies that are coming in and trying to dive down at the local level.

Moon: Going to be interesting to watch. John Ourand writes for the Sports Business Journal. Thank you very much for joining us.

OURAND: Thank you, Bob.

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