SBD/January 11, 2013/Media

Execs Cho, Johnson Discuss Future Of ESPN Sports & Pop Culture Website Grantland

Grantland.com since debuting a year and a half ago has “found a footing, mixing long-form feature writing with both witty blog posts, criticism on pop culture and deep analysis on major sports such as football and basketball,” according to Jason Del Rey of AD AGE. Grantland Editor-in-Chief Bill Simmons has “filled out the roster with high-profile contributors.” Del Rey conducted a Q&A with Grantland Publisher David Cho and ESPN Exec VP/Multimedia Sales Eric Johnson about “what they’ve found so far and where they hope to bring the property” in ’13. Below are excerpts from the interview:

Q: What have you learned and what's your focus for this year?
Cho: We've really seen what works and what doesn't work, what the audience responds to and also what we feel like the site is becoming and what the brand is becoming. A big part of that is that we wanted to prove long-form content still had a place online, that everything didn't have to be short bite-size nuggets. And I think we've done that. ... Now we’re really focusing on the product and how the content is delivered. ... [We want to] create destination pages that are stronger and feel like products of their own. We felt like we are putting out some good stuff that’s getting lost because we were relying on the home page.

Q: According to Comscore, traffic continues to be flat around 2 million monthly visitors. Do you care about that?
Cho: For us it’s about putting out the best product we can. We always want to get bigger, but to have a site our size 18 months in is pretty good.
Johnson: The site has enough girth and a very attractive demographic that ends up lending well to the sales proposition. I don’t think Grantland is designed to be a major volume play. It’s a sophisticated site with a very unique blend of sports and pop culture and that’s ultimately what we bring to advertisers.

Q: What’s been the ad sales philosophy for Grantland?
Johnson: We started with presenting sponsors, such as Subway, that have a customized integration into the site. Now we're looking at selling flighted sponsorships around events, so you might see us sell one around the Super Bowl or the NBA Draft. We don't have the desire to just sell display rotational ads. They don't fill a need and it's more profitable this way.

Q: The Grantland YouTube channel doesn’t have a sponsor. Are you content with not having a sponsor there?
Johnson: We’ve had communication with Google on the YouTube front and if a sponsor had interest, we’d partner together. We want to have more sponsorships, but we want to make sure they’re meaningful ones (ADAGE.com, 1/10).
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