Surfing over to ESPN.com this afternoon, one of their front page stories was the launch of a new regional site, ESPN-Chicago. I hadn't heard anything about the development of a regional portal for Chicago fans (maybe I would have if I was a Chicago fan myself) but found the news to be really interesting.
This site is going to compete directly with Comcast, who runs a regional sports network in Chicago, as well as local sports media like the Tribune (do people read that here? I have no idea, but it's got a large building near my apartment, so I'll assume so).
I'm curious to see who can attract more attention.
On one hand, you have the incumbent media entities, stations and reporters who make their living focusing solely on the Chicago sports world.
On the other side, a new portal with the support of a huge multinational corporation.
Comcast has its own Chicago sports television network that serves to drive traffic to its website. But if it's anything like the CSN Philadelphia web site, it doesn't have a lot of great content and has a pretty meh design and layout.
Looking at ESPN Chicago, it's layout is most definitely slick (as well it should be, piggybacking off of ESPN's main page design).
So maybe Comcast/Tribune/whomever has an advantage in that their reporters are better, or more experienced, or have better connections. Looking at the roster of contributors for ESPN Chicago, these guys seem to be Chicagoans as well, though I'd assume they're lacking the stature of established beat/TV reporters who've been in Chicago a while.
Further, I would guess, based purely on my own web surfing habits, that ESPN can drive a ton of traffic to this new portal relative to the incumbent players. While I personally read articles from my hometown newspaper on their web site every day...I never go to Comcast's site. With that said, I'll go to ESPN.com's main page at least a dozen times a day. Something tells me I'd click through pretty often if they had a Philadelphia sports portal.
I would assume the new ESPN site will get huge Chicago traffic, and demonstrate that national media players who run successful internet enterprises can pick up niche audiences with regionalized perspectives. Part of this is based on my experience watching regional providers stink, or miss plenty of opportunities to build bigger internet audiences.
(We could go back to when I tried to pitch philly.com on my idea for a Flyers web blog to complement their coverage in 2003...now that it's been 5 years, they've finally launched blogs following all the major sports...not that I'm bitter)
With all that said, I still think it will be even more interesting as players battle on extracting value from an even bigger crown jewel, live broadcasting rights. Given the fact that sports leagues themselves are launching/have launched networks (NFL, NBA, MLB...etc.) and given that national networks want broadcasting rights to remain relevant, and given that regional players largely have the incumbent broadcast position in individual markets...I'm very interested in seeing what happens