Why? Because they're transforming what had been local radio affiliate websites into local sports hubs where the value of the station association has less to do with what's on the air and more to do with how many sellers are on the local streets.
And local sports hubs with local radio sellers will eventually progress to local sports hubs without local radio sellers which simply cannibalize radio's potential rather than enhancing it.
Early this year I noted the threat this constitutes for radio.
And it's working. Check out the results (from this article):
ESPNChicago.com has been greeted with some early success: Its tally of more than 700,000 unique visitors and 1.7 million minutes of time spent on the site in July was up 19 percent from June on both counts and up 87 percent in audience size from May, according to comScore. In addition, comScore statistics show that the average number of unique visitors to the ESPN Chicago site for May, June and July (555,000) was more than the averages for the sports sites of the Chicago Tribune (424,000) or Chicago Sun-Times (256,000).
Some folks replied that it really isn't a threat since it powers-up the ESPN affiliates in the markets where it launches. But note this quote:
Major media markets where ESPN has a strong owned-and-operated or tightly affiliated radio station with a local advertising sales force have formed the basis of the original batch of ESPN local sites. Pursuing that route has allowed ESPN to essentially relaunch the radio station Web sites as the expanded local hubs and have each station provide a constant source of audio content. Jim Pastor, ESPN senior vice president for business divisions, said the company is not necessarily beholden to that plan going forward and may consider markets where ESPN does not have a strong radio presence.
You can bet the farm on this one.
Some stations, like WEEI, are not letting this digital challenge go unanswered. But these stations are few and far between.
Too many sports stations still fancy themselves to be in the business of airing live play-by-play and call-in shows rather than being in the business of satisfying the appetites of local sports fans when and where they want those appetites satisfied, no matter the channel.
Boston is next for ESPN, followed by Dallas, New York, LA, and a town near you.
A local sports hub is a local media destination. And that, radio, can be you, too.
And not only sports….