SBJ/20080623/This Week's News

ESPN Radio begins streaming affiliated stations

Eight months after ESPN Radio started streaming its five owned-and-operated sports talk stations from a single Web site, ESPNRadio.com, the company is now starting to stream affiliated local sports talk stations that it neither owns nor operates.

So far, stations in five markets have agreed to become part of ESPN Radio’s online affiliate network, including Washington’s WXTR-AM, WWXT-FM and WWXX-FM (all owned by Red Zebra Broadcasting), Denver’s KEPN-AM (Lincoln Financial Group), Cleveland’s WKNR-AM, Milwaukee’s WAUK-AM and West Palm Beach’s WEFL-AM (all owned by Good Karma Broadcasting).

“Our goal is to get the top 50 markets signed up by this time next year,” said Marc Horine, ESPN Digital Media’s vice president of digital partnerships and radio. “Ultimately, we want to get all 350 of our affiliates on board.”

Above: The site for ESPN 1000,
WMVP-AM in Chicago.
Below: The streaming player.

Affiliates that agree to the deal will have their station streamed to ESPNRadio.com. Users can listen to the stations for free.

Plus, the stations can use ESPN Radio’s online template for their own local Web sites, complete with ESPN.com news feeds, audio, podcasts, video, scoreboards and polls. The local stations will be able to control that content.

So far, ESPN has not had much trouble talking affiliates into becoming part of the online network, even if it means occasionally losing some traffic from the station’s Web site to the broader ESPNRadio.com.

“We have great local content,” said Craig Karmazin, who runs Good Karma Broadcasting. “They have great technical and distribution across the dot-com network. As things get more sophisticated, we want to focus more on growing ad sales and leave the technical matters to someone like ESPN.”

The affiliate stations also will get built-in online advertising spots via templates that should help increase the stations’ advertising sales, Horine said.

The two sides still haven’t figured out how to split online ad sales, which account for less than 5 percent of a typical sports talk station’s ad revenue, Karmazin said. ESPN and the local stations will all wind up with a certain amount of inventory to sell.

“As the sophistication level of media buyers gets better, we want to stay a step ahead,” Karmazin said.

ESPNRadio.com’s monthly online audience includes nearly 2 million unique users and 275,000 live online listeners.

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