Carefully Crafted on April 04

Hyperlocal News Lessons from ESPN

If you’re a sports fan, this has to be one of your favorite times of year — March Madness, the start of a new baseball season, the Master’s, upcoming NFL draft and impending NBA playoffs. For sports fans, it doesn’t get much better than this. Which means it’s also prime time for ESPN.

When it comes to sports media, ESPN is unquestionably the leader. And, while other large media conglomerates have struggled of late, ESPN continues to push the envelope. Last week, ESPN unveiled their latest project — a site dedicated to covering sports in New York. This goes along with ESPN’s other local sites for Chicago, Boston, Dallas and LA sports. While much has been said and written about hyperlocal journalism as the future of media, implementation and adaptation isn’t quite there … at least not yet. But, ESPN has found a formula that works. As one writer observed:

Within a month of the time it was launched, ESPN Chicago drew more unique visitors than the sports sections of the Chicago Tribune or the Chicago Sun-Times. This means that it took ESPN all of one month to overcome the Tribune and Sun-Times’ decades-long head start in building trust and authority and insinuating themselves into readers’ habits, and their 14-year head start in specifically covering Chicago sports online. One month, and all that was out the window.

So, what’s the secret?

  • Subject-matter expertise. ESPN employs a cadre of traditional reporters and professional bloggers — people with connections to inside sources. They “go local” with a team designed to provide higher-quality information than what their audience can get elsewhere. Citizen journalism has its place; however, ESPN is showing that professional reporters still have a place, even in a hyperlocal approach.
  • Brand consistency. ESPN is already recognized as the worldwide leader in sports. Now, they’re leveraging that brand equity to become the “neighborhood” leader in sports. The incorporation of local reporting doesn’t cause any brand confusion. In fact, the move strengthens the company’s position as the leader. Can the same be said for traditional media attempting to go local, or do these media organizations risk muddling their own brand?
  • Minimal competition. When it comes to sports journalism, the competition is pretty slim. FOX Sports failed in their attempt to go head-to-head with ESPN. The magazine Sports Illustrated hasn’t been able to master other mediums. While the competition between traditional media outlets is fierce — and perhaps forcing outlets to be more conservative — ESPN can take more risks because without fearing a loss of dominance.

That’s just  a quick look at some of the factors that help ESPN effectively go local. Can you identify lessons that traditional media should learn from ESPN’s experience? Do you see more traditional media outlets successfully incorporating hyperlocal news into the mix?

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