Saturday, August 04, 2007

Where Are The ESPN Challengers?

Why doesn't anyone try to beat ESPN in the sports news market? In general news you've got CNN, MSNBC, Fox, NBC, ABC, CBS, Bloomberg, and a handful of other competitors and yet ESPN stands alone in the sports news marketplace. Why?

Partly it's that the sports market isn't as big as the general news market, and thus there's less room for competition. And partly it's that ESPN so thoroughly dominates the space. I even think it would be fair to say that sports and ESPN are pretty much synonymous for most people.

Also, general national news was already a competitive enterprise before cable came along -- all three networks hosted monstrous news organizations. No such infrastructure existed for national sports reporting, so ESPN had the market to itself. And they've been relentless about pursuing and dominating every niche that's come along since, much to their credit. They've done everything they can to stay relevant and connected with younger audiences.

But I think ESPN is starting to show its age, ironically in the way they are so dogged about staying hip. It's all starting to look a little forced and fake at this point, like an aging superstar who still wears tight dresses and too much makeup, showing up at parties and laughing a little bit too loud. I think America's ready for the Next Big Thing in sports reporting, something to knock the big guy down a few pegs and liven things up.

The most likely candidate is FoxSportsNet, the group of local sports channels NewsCorp gobbled up over the past ten years or so. They've got a large infrastructure in place already, including on-air talent, and at least some national name recognition. The larger corporation has a vast amount of money to spend and a formidable lobbying presence in Washington to help pave the way for any legislation they might need. And Fox certainly has a history of knocking aging stars off their pedestals.

Frankly, I don't really think they'd be able to take a significant market share away from ESPN, but I do think it'd be fun to see them try.

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