SBD/Issue 238/Sports Media

ESPN Planning To Launch Boston Web Site On September 14

ESPN will launch ESPNBoston.com on September 14, its second locally oriented version of ESPN.com to begin following a successful debut in Chicago in April, and previously announced plans to begin similar online destinations for Dallas, New York and Los Angeles over the next 10 months. The Boston version, morphing out of sites for ESPN Radio’s 890 AM station, will feature news coverage devoted to the local pro, college and high school teams, contributions from ESPN writers with Boston ties such as Peter Gammons, Bill Simmons and Michael Smith, locally oriented community tools and a localized, three-to-six minute version of SportsCenter, among other content. ESPN.com Editor Peter Lawrence-Riddell has been named Managing Editor of ESPNBoston.com, and Boston Globe NFL writer Mike Reiss will cover the Patriots for the site. The launch is timed for the '09 debut of ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” which will feature Bills-Patriots.

Bodenheimer Says Local Sites
Present Economic Opportunity
NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH: During Thursday's opening day of ESPN’s open house for reporters in Bristol, ESPN/ABC Sports President George Bodenheimer said the local Web sites represent a significant economic and content opportunity. “We’re extremely bullish on this,” Bodenheimer said. “We’ve definitely been encouraged by the success in Chicago to date and see this as something really important going forward.” Similarly, ESPN.com VP, Exec Editor & Producer Patrick Stiegman called the local efforts “a work in progress,” but also something “with strong potential to get users really engaged.” ESPNChicago.com in July recorded more than 700,000 unique visitors and 1.7 million minutes of time spent on the site, both up 19% compared to June measures, and up 87% in unique visitors compared to May. The Boston effort was not mentioned during media sessions with several ESPN senior executives Thursday, including Bodenheimer, despite repeated questioning on the topic until news of the previously undisclosed plans leaked out that night. ESPNBoston.com will enter a crowded and highly competitive local digital sports media landscape that includes online homes for the Boston Globe and Herald, Comcast SportsNet and WEEI Radio in addition to the home pages for each local team (Fisher & Ellington, THE DAILY).

SHIPPING UP TO BOSTON: In Boston, Chad Finn cites sources as saying that ESPNBoston is "pursuing other Globe writers" in addition to Reiss. WEEI and Boston Herald sources indicated that they are "unaware of ESPNBoston pursuing any of their staffers." Finn writes Reiss is a "shrewd initial hire, an indication that ESPN has done its homework on what has succeeded in the Boston marketplace." A source at a competing Boston sports media outlet said, "If they come up with a creative way to spin Simmons's and Gammons's traffic as part of their site here, their numbers are going to be insane." Meanwhile, Finn notes there will be "yet another player on the local media scene soon," when CSN New England launches a site that "intends to compete with Boston.com, WEEI.com, and ESPNBoston, among others, in covering local teams" (BOSTON GLOBE, 8/28).

TWITTER REAX: Reiss said, "Boston Globe is a great place with great people. I have a few more weeks on the job, and I'm planning on sprinting toward the finish line.” ESPN's Bill Simmons clarified, "I'm not writing new material for 'em. If I write a Boston-related column, it'll just run there as well.” Meanwhile, SI's Richard Deitsch writes the launch is "compelling for many reasons, including the no. of ex-Globe employees at ESPN and Bristol's proximity to Boston." The Boston Globe's Finn, in response to Deitsch, writes, “No kidding. They have inside info on who they should pursue. And they hit a home run with Reiss.” The N.Y. Times' Pete Thamel: "Interesting how this ESPN experiment is building."

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