SBJ/March 7-13, 2011/Media

ESPN to cover itself with sports media blog

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ESPN’s communications department is launching a sports media blog that will focus on issues and stories related to the Disney-owned company.

ESPNFrontRow.com will launch March 30 with an experienced journalist, Sheldon Spencer, as its primary writer and editor. A former staff writer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Spencer, 49, most recently was an NFL editor on ESPN.com, working with NFL blogs.

Spencer will report to two executives in the ESPN communications department: Rob Tobias, vice president, and Laurel Daggett, senior director.

The blog will serve two purposes. It will offer a behind-the-scenes look at how ESPN operates and it will address controversies that involve ESPN. Consumers will be able to access the site from a link at the bottom of ESPN.com’s home page; posts on the site also will be distributed via social media outlets like Twitter.
“This is a way for us to speak directly with consumers,” said Mike Soltys, ESPN’s vice president of communications.

Andrews
The blog will give ESPN’s take on issues such as Erin Andrews’ Reebok endorsement.
As an example, Soltys pointed to the issues that arose when sideline reporter Erin Andrews, during the Rose Bowl, reported that TCU players were slipping in their Nike cleats — and two weeks later, reports surfaced that Andrews had signed an endorsement deal with Reebok.

The communications department site is not expected to compete with the role of the ESPN ombudsman because it’s being operated by ESPN’s PR department. ESPN’s ombudsman, which will be The Poynter Institute for the next 18 months, is set up as an independent voice.

“This will give us a platform to explain our position on ESPN’s endorsement policy,” Soltys said.

The bulk of the site will feature behind-the-scenes stories, akin to the Valentine’s Day video “Baseball Tonight” analyst Bobby Valentine shot or the promo surrounding the launch of ESPN2 in Australia.

The goal is to have about three posts per day during the week. Spencer will write most of the posts. Some ESPN executives, such as Vince Doria, senior vice president and director of news, or Norby Williamson, executive vice president of production, will byline stories that pertain to them.

Posts on the site will be open to comments, but ESPN is trying to figure out how it will monitor those comments.
Soltys believes there’s plenty of interest in this type of information, pointing to the most-read stories list on sites like SportsBusiness Daily (SBJ sister publication), which are filled with ESPN-related stories. “We’re not looking to replace the media that’s covering us,” Soltys said. “We still will make our executives available to media covering various stories.”

ESPN hired Voce Communications to design the site. The company has designed corporate blogs for companies like Disney Parks and eBay. Soltys said the site’s content will be patterned after those blogs. “The corporate sites that flounder typically are the ones that don’t post frequently enough,” he said.

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