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GQ Reveals Local ESPN Sites To Be Scrappy, Shoestring Operations

ESPN New York went live yesterday, and upon first glance it looks like the worldwide leader of sports has a legion of writers focused on covering every aspect of the New York sports scene. The sheer amount of content – breaking news, columns, videos – is staggering for a “local” site, and appears to be hellbent on making the sports section of the New York Times obsolete.

But according to a GQ.com profile on ESPN’s burgeoning plans for local sports, this image is only partly accurate.

The piece, written by Gabriel Sherman, contends that the new local sites offered by ESPN – New York, Boston, Dallas, LA, and Chicago – are pretty modest operations:

Each site is staffed by a half-dozen or so reporters and editors to cover the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, the MLS, and high school sports. It’s a shoestring effort, given that sports desks at some of their newspaper competitors have staffs ten times that size, even after layoffs.

And although the new local sites can pull content from ESPN.com’s slew of writers and treasure trove of videos, the local outfits still have to battle for respect:

It’s an odd position for ESPN to be cast as an underdog when in every other medium it’s been dominant for years. When the Cowboys opened their new stadium this season, the press office assigned Watkins and MacMahon terrible seats in the press box, shunting them off next to The Gilmer Mirror and KTXS News 12 out of Abilene, Texas. (“We got fucked,” MacMahon griped.)

Still, ESPN’s ragtag group of local reporters and bloggers will get no respect from grizzled New York Post vet Phil Mushnick. On sports journalism, and ESPN’s role in its perceived decline:

“Sports journalism is dead. The games have become props; the sports have become props. I think at the start of every day, ESPN’s motives are pure, but before it’s put on the air, on the Web, or in the magazine, it’s all been ESPN-ized: It’s there to self-promote, cross-promote. I’m frightened for whistle-blowers. It’ll be a good time for bad guys when newspapers go down.”

And although, as the article notes, ESPN didn’t kill print journalism (it’s not dead yet, is it? How do we know when this is official?), its local operations are being perceived as their latest attempt to monopolize sports news. ESPN contends that the local sites are just an evolutionary tactic in cross branding, a natural next step in achieving “synergy” across their various media platforms.

Regardless, it’s not too crazy to picture a future where ESPN is the only game in town.

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