SBD/Issue 112/Sports Industrialists

Catching Up With ESPN360.com VP Damon Phillips

Phillips Has Led A Revamp
Of ESPN360.com
In his first year at ESPN360.com since coming over from USA Football, VP DAMON PHILLIPS has led a revamping of the platform as well as an extensive effort to boost the content available on the service. The end result is that 360 now boasts a variety of content, ranging from major league-level games and competitions that air concurrently on the ESPN family of networks to games from sports and leagues that are not usually available or familiar to the American sports fan. Phillips recently took time out of his schedule to chat with Staff Writer William Cooper about his first year on the job, as well as where he sees ESPN360 going moving forward.

Web sites you visit daily
: Paidcontent.org, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, peHUB, ESPN.com (laughing), ESPN360.com and the San Jose Mercury News site. I like to follow some Bay Area sports teams.
Favorite sports team: Stanford Cardinal.
Favorite sporting event to watch: College football.
Favorite vacation spot: Amelia Island, Florida.

Q: Is there a team, league or entity that has impressed you with their use of online video?

Phillips: Yeah, I follow the space very closely. I think some of the leagues are doing a really good job with online streaming as well as some of the entertainment sites like ABC and their Full Episode Player as well as Hulu and some other sites. Definitely following what everyone is doing.

Q: What are some of the ideas that you have gained from what others are doing with online video?

Phillips: It’s really how they’re serving their user, and really creating ways to engage users to spend more time on their sites. Whether it’s the quality of the video, or quality of the audio, being able to have functions now like full screens, being able to introduce Web 2.0 features, … we’re always looking for ways to learn what some of the best practices are. 

Phillips Touts Billy Mays Campaign As An
Example Of ESPN's Advertising Creativity
Q: How did the ads with BILLY MAYS come about? 

Phillips: That was our marketing department. ESPN is definitely known for creativity and we have a great marketing department, and one of the ideas we came up with with the agency was to get one of the best pitchmen out there to sell ESPN360.com. The big piece of that campaign was really educating people on what ESPN360 is and really relying on some of the brand attributes of ESPN to interject humor into those spots.

Q: What is your general approach when considering different leagues for content on ESPN360? 

Phillips: We look at a number of factors, and the overriding principle is serving the fans. We break up programming into three different buckets. The first one is major U.S. sports and events. Those are sports like college football, college basketball, the NBA, Major League Baseball, that drive large audience numbers. The second group of programming are those passion sports, those underserved fans, they can’t get enough of international soccer on American TV, or they can’t get enough rugby, or cricket, or lacrosse, so we do our best to aggregate that content to make it available to those underserved fans. And the third group of content is what we call The Wide World of Sports, where we’ll go out and do handball, we’ll do rodeo, eating contests....we’re looking for ways again to engage users.

Q: How are you seeking to grow content in the areas of passion sports and wide world of sports in particular? 

Phillips: We are really trying to serve those underserved fans. We just did the Pop Warner championship out in Disney World back in December, so we’re always looking for those type of events. From a soccer standpoint, we have a number of the top domestic leagues that are out there. Last year we did Italian soccer, Japanese soccer, Chinese soccer, Russian soccer, so we’re out there looking at content that is going to resonate with our users.

Phillips Says He Became A Huge Cricket Fan
During Coverage Of Asia Cup Cricket Last June
Q: What are some of the sports that you most enjoy watching on ESPN360? 

Phillips: The handball championships we had a couple of weeks ago were very, very intriguing. College football, college basketball, but some of the other sports like handball or rodeo, some very, very entertaining things that you can watch on 360. Cricket was another one, I became a huge cricket fan when we had the Asia Cup back in June last year, so it definitely broadens your horizon or your perspective on international sports.

Q: Are there any leagues or sports out there whose content you would like to acquire for 360? 

Phillips: We are constantly looking for quality content. We’re very fortunate that we have relationships with a number of leagues and conferences and national governing bodies, so we’re always in discussions about ways we can provide more content to our users.

Q: Where do you see individuals’ use of online video ultimately going? 

Phillips: We definitely see it growing over time. There’s 65 million broadband households in the U.S. right now, and those numbers are definitely increasing year-over-year. We think that online viewing is a great complement to the TV, and we have a theory within our research department that it is all about the best-available screen. If given the choice, a fan is going to watch the game on their 50-inch flat-screen TV. But if that TV is not available to them at that time, they’ll watch on their computer, they’ll watch on their laptop, they’ll watch on their phone, and at ESPN our goal is to really serve that sports fan wherever they are.

Q: You have now been at ESPN360 for just over a year. What are you most proud of that you all have accomplished in that time? 

Phillips: I think the biggest thing that we have accomplished is delivering a TV-quality viewing experience to fans online. When we look at what we do, we want to make sure that we are representing the ESPN brand, and that anything that we do online is good enough to be on ESPN and ESPN2.

Q: Moving forward, what are some of the ways that you will seek to enhance the viewing experience to make it even more like watching on television? 

Phillips: We are constantly improving our technology to deliver a crisper picture, video as well as audio. We also are introducing new modules that allow fans to interact with each other regardless of where they are. Stats integration is also another key component in terms of what we’re doing. So we’re constantly looking at ways to innovate, and a lot of those innovations come from fans themselves who give us ideas about how we can improve the experience, so we really take customer insights very seriously.

Q: What is a sports business story you are following closely? 

Phillips: Online streaming. This is a very, very hot topic right now, and I’m following it very closely to see how everyone adapts to fan behavior and lifestyle.

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