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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

ESPN: bringing local sports news to a city near you

Remember the old days before eBay and Craigslist? You know, when the classified want-ads in the local newspaper were the place to go whenever you wanted to buy used items?

Well a movement is afoot in the media industry that may make the large local newspaper’s sports section become as irrelevant as the classifieds have become.

Proud to label themselves as “the world-wide leader in sports”, ESPN has announced the expansion of a pilot they initiated in Chicago to deliver comprehensive local sports news via the web.

Should you scoff at such a notion, chew on this. According to a New York Times report, in just 90 days, has become the city’s top sports site, topping the previous leader, the Chicago Tribune’s web section. In June, the counts weren’t all that close, with ESPN Chicago leading, 590,000 unique visitors to just 455,000 for the locals.

The early data implies that instead of snatching away large numbers of readers, ESPN initially seems have stemmed the growth of the local newspaper sites.

More importantly, ESPN has begun to secure large local advertising contracts, hitting the newspapers where it hurts most. This comes at a time when many local papers are already cutting back their sports sections due to financial difficulties caused in part by shrinking ad revenues.

ESPN coverage is provided with a local touch via original reporting from a in-market team of editors, columnists and bloggers, many known locally from past newspaper and television jobs, augmented by content from the news wires and ESPN staff.

The impressive initial results have been accomplished in Chicago so far through focus only on professional and college teams. The next step will take ESPN into Chicago area high school sports, too.

The threat also affects local television, as the site features a daily Chicago edition of its flagship “SportsCenter” program and they plan to leverage their extensive ESPN radio network, too.

Next up, backed by the deep pockets of the Disney Corporation, ESPN is hiring 15 new people to lead their expansion into Dallas, Los Angeles and New York. The Dallas site is slated to start up this fall, with the other two cities coming online early next year.

How long will it take for the worldwide leader to notice that St. Louis, one of the few major one-newspaper cities, may be ripe for some good, old-fashioned competition? If so, more choices for the online sports reader will surely follow.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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