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What ESPN’s Franchise Business Means to You


Why did ESPN acquire Nate Silver and his hugely popular NYT blog

Was it just to lay odds on sports events? Or was it for a much bigger play?

This past weekend on CNN’s Reliable Sources, ESPN Chief John Skipper spelled out the strategy:

…We had launched Grantland, [where we] allowed Bill Simmons to have the freedom to do the kind of site he’s doing so that when we went to Nate and said we’re going to let you range across things other than sports, we’re going to give you support and freedom to have opinions and to look at things, it gave us a real credibility. [It’s like] asking if you want to have a hit record. We like having a Bill Simmons and Grantland. We like having a Nate Silver and If you or anybody else can point me in the direction of other singular talents around whom we can create businesses and opportunities, we’re ready for a go.

ESPN is looking for “hit records” on which to build platforms, and not platforms that are exclusive to sports. Can there be any doubt that Silver’s revamped site, like Grantland (which is titled “Sports and Pop Culture…”), will roam as far from sports as audience appetites and its roster of quality contributors (and they’re coming) will allow?

In other words, ESPN wants unique and compelling content with which to build a stage to reel in attention like a swordfish on the high seas.

ESPN will go beyond sports because the attention and interests of their audience will give them “permission” to do so.

So is the story any different for local media outlets? Nope.

If you’re a newspaper brand you need to find your own “stars.” As Tom Asacker has asked, quite provocatively, what happens when the stars are the brands and the brands no longer are? What happens when the local newspaper site is secondary to the stars that use it as their platform? Where does the value reside then?

Ditto for radio. Just ask Glenn Beck, whose empire may have begun with a radio show, but that same show now serves only as one piece of the ever-growing platform built to create businesses and opportunities.

Ditto for local TV. Ever more content that used to be exclusively available on a local affiliate is available everywhere else, too. The more ways we have to consume content, the more freedom we have to consume it in whatever way we choose. And that may not be on your local TV station. Sure local news covers some of this need, but surely not all of it. There are more “stars” on local TV’s horizon.

ESPN is on the hunt for “singular talents” – “hits” – around whom they can create businesses and opportunities.

What about you?

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