ESPN Goes "Hyper-Local"
NEW YORK — Scattered showers and humidity couldn't keep the crowd away from The New Yorker Hotel for Day Two of the recent Location-Based Marketing Summit, and certainly not from a keynote address by an executive of ESPN that revealed the cable-sports powerhouse's efforts to connect sports fans to teams — and to each other — via location-based services.
[Editors' Note: For coverage of Day One of the Location-Based Marketing Summit, click here.)
Approximately 200 people filled the hotel's Grand Ballroom for the presentation "The Value of Live, Local and Social," during which Marc Horine, vice president of partnerships and revenue development for ESPN Digital Media Group (DMG), affirmed the programmer's integration of all three aspects of communication. ESPN's mission, Horine said, is to serve all fans, wherever sports are watched, listened to, discussed, debated, read about, or played.
"Connecting with the modern-day sports fan is not always easy," Horine told the audience. "People are on the move and the mobile device is becoming the first screen for a lot of people out there. We feel it's important to serve our audience as quickly as possible. The location opportunities that exist to target sports fans where they happen to be at any given moment in time are exciting for us."
In the past year, Horine said, ESPN DMG has built its business around three core fan experiences: live, local, and social.
One aspects of ESPN's live-game experience is the commitment to provide the fastest scores and instant analysis, Horine said. ESPN's ScoreCenter application, according to its on-site description, allows users to "stay on top of all the results you care about with one-tap access to your personalized set of scores…. Never miss another goal, pitch, basket, try, touchdown, or wicket. ScoreCenter brings you the fastest and most reliable game details like plays, key stats, leaderboards, box scores, and scoring summaries."
ESPN entered the location marketplace a year and a half ago, Horine said, after launching its ESPN Chicago Web site. The launch, he said, revealed location-based marketing opportunities to connect the ESPN brand with advertisers in local markets, and the programmer intends to focus on the local marketplace to deliver content directly related to each fan's favorite teams.
"Location is important to sports fans because it creates passion," Horine said. Still, he warned, it's important to recognize that fans of Major League Baseball's New York Yankees, for example, don't all live in New York — and many New York–area ESPN viewers, site visitors, and application users may not be Yankees fans. The key is to use location-based information as one tool in the effort to ensure that content customers are delivered (and able to access) relevant material.
ESPN plans to surround and enhance the "at the game" experience by allowing fans to chronicle their sports experiences online and across various channels of social media.
The programmer's ESPN Passport enables the 30 million ESPN.com users to check in at games, take photos, and share with friends on social networks, among other features. Passport doesn't require the fan to actually be at the game, however; users who are watching or listening remotely are also encouraged to chronicle their experiences.
Applying the lessons of the trend toward social gaming, Passport also ranks users based on attendance and activity. "They're very competitive by nature," Horine said. The application knows the geolocation of each fan and will find games within 250 miles.
The three-pronged approach, Horine said, is expanding ESPN's reach without cannibalizing existing revenue. "The local ad dollars that we're generating have been surprisingly positive," Horine said. "We're not shifting dollars around. This is truly new incremental money to the company."
ESPN also plans to get "hyper-local" in the high school sports arena. Last year ESPN launched an application called RISE that is geared toward informing, inspiring, and connecting high school athletes.
"If we do our job and continue to evolve our location-based applications we'd like to one day combine a lot of the great functionality that exists into one über location-based app that allows fans to connect with the games — but also with each other," Horine said.
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