It's hardly anything new for ESPN to extend its reach and further its brand through rather odd and strange ways (see: "50 States in 50 Days," "Who's Now?' and "TitleTown USA"), so we probably shouldn't be too surprised to learn that they're planning city-specific ESPN.com homepages.
Chicago was the first city to be announced last week, and will be launched in April.
ESPNChicago.com will provide a “24/7 Chicago sports news operation” starting in April, said Marc Horine, a vice president with ESPN digital media.
Prospective advertisers previewed the site last week, and brewer MillerCoors will be the site’s charter advertiser. If the venture is successful, ESPN could roll out more city-specific sites across the country.
“We already have a user base with millions of people coming to [ESPN.com] looking for Chicago sports,” Horine said. “At its core, the mission is simple: to super-serve Chicago sports fans.”
In addition to sports news, the site will have social-networking aspects, a travel partnership and even a way to organize your local softball team.
And like the cable channel, ESPN Chicago will feature its own “SportsCenter”-style newscast with a three- to five-minute highlight reel of the day’s top stories. It will have original content and include breaking news, provided by Chicago’s WLS-Ch. 7. The ABC affiliate and ESPN are both owned by The Walt Disney Co.
As Awful Announcing points out, it's somewhat odd that the Worldwide Leader would start with Chicago, and not New York City or Los Angeles, but according to the Wall Street Journal, it makes perfect sense for two reasons: "It’s a city of passionate sports fans where the local papers have been crippled by the industry’s revenue drain. The Chicago Tribune’s owner, Tribune Co., in December filed for bankruptcy protection because of its crushing debt, and the owner of the Chicago Sun-Times has been drastically cutting costs to stem losses and avoid a similar fate."
So add ESPN to the list of organizations who will try to capitalize and replace the failing newspapers.
ESPN hopes ESPNChicago.com will be the first of a series of new sites that will deepen its online penetration in local markets, following an increasingly popular approach for major content providers. Having already built a national audience of devotees of a particular topic, some publishers are targeting subgroups linked by geography and civic pride.
The Huffington Post, the left-leaning news site that enjoyed a surge in popularity during the presidential campaign, late last year began rolling out local sites beginning, incidentally, with Chicago. A Huffington Post spokesman said the launch “has gone very well” and several more cities will be added over the next 12 months. The Web site Politico has beefed up its staff recently to cover more local politics and sell it to understaffed newspapers in those cities.
With ESPN set to open a new LA headquarters later this year, the announcement of ESPNChicago.com, and the fact that they have already segmented its radio channels regionally, it seems like just a matter of time before we begin to see city-specific television channels.