For the last few decades, ESPN has been the unquestioned “Worldwide Leader in Sports.” What started as a Connecticut based, Connecticut focused, 24-hour sports network has now become more than ten popular channels across the world (including ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN News, ESPN Classic, and ESPN Deportes) and a highly-trafficked website (ESPN.com) devoted to delivering the latest sports news all day, every day. ESPN also boasts a very popular, bi-weekly magazine.
In the short term (10-15 years), ESPN will continue to dominate for three simple reasons.
1. Distribution. ESPN’s reach is massive, on and offline. As mentioned, they have more than ten sports networks across the world, as well as ESPN.com (nearly 5 million unique visitors in the month of January), and a big-time magazine. ESPN has also delved into the world of social media, with more than a half million combined Facebook fans and Twitter followers. It’s hard to beat that kind of power.
2. Access. ESPN reporters and employees often obtain breaking sports news first, because people (athletes, agents, PR agencies, etc) know ESPN has the most reach and the most credibility. ESPN has built a strong reputation over the years of being the first to break news. At this point, even if they aren’t first, they often times get credit because they are so mainstream.
3. Culture. Most sports fans watch at least one airing of SportsCenter or check ESPN.com at least once per day. In our culture, even people who couldn’t care less about sports know about ESPN. Ask those same people what YardBarker or FanHouse is, and they won’t have the slightest idea. ESPN has dominated for too long to die so quickly.
In the long term, I think ESPN is in some trouble. They have made significant strides to be more social. Most on-air talent and many shows have social media accounts and interact nicely. For example, Pardon The Interruption asks Twitter followers to suggest topics on a daily basis. It’s not their fault that they’re in trouble, they just are. In a nutshell, it comes down to the argument that mainstream media is dying. In ten or fifteen years, traditional journalists and reporters will be replaced by bloggers. Cable television will collapse. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
There are too many talented and knowledgeable sports professionals and content creators (e.g. SportsNetworker) outside of ESPN for them to not be in trouble. Pretty soon, there will be a web version of SportsCenter that is a hell of a lot more interactive than ESPN’s version will be. ESPN is a slow-moving corporation. I just feel like they won’t be able to keep up with the times.
What about the argument that in ten or fifteen years, athletes, teams, and leagues will have no reason to feed ESPN any information? If OchoCinco (hypothetically, obviously he won’t be playing in ten years) wants to do a news conference, he’ll turn to Ustream or the OCNN to send out his message. Not ESPN. Sure, ESPN aggregates sports information, and does it well. But that might not be the case down the line.
These are very much scrambled thoughts. Obviously, who knows what ESPN will look like in the future? What do you think? What does the future of sports media look like?