ESPN Gets its Social Media Game On: Twitter Deal, YouTube Channels and More

They’re called advertising upfronts but today’s announcements from ESPN show mainly that the worldwide leader in sports isn’t missing the bus when it comes to social media. Instead, it’s firmly behind the wheel and driving in the lead.

While there were many ground-breaking developments announced by ESPN today, the ones we think are really big news are the Twitter/ESPN branded ad campaigns, the new ESPN radio apps and some cool plans for the Bill Simmons/Grantland outlet that include a dedicated YouTube channel and a podcast channel. In all, what ESPN is basically saying is that it’s not going to be run over by social media like Twitter, as some astute observers predicted might happen. Instead, ESPN is using its content might to leverage social media’s appeal, marrying the best of what it has with the ongoing revolution of user-driven content consumption.

I’m not so sure how the branded ESPN/Twitter idea will pan out — it involves having fans send in their pictures to then be highlighted during an ESPN broadcast. Though I am sure we will all watch to see how silly people are willing to be, to me the power of Twitter is that it’s not directed or harnessed, but most amazing when it forms through happenstance and intuition. But acknowledging that Twitter is better at giving users an online identity than its own commenting system is a big leap for a big company like ESPN, and it shows that the network is ready and willing to embrace technology that it doesn’t necessarily control. Not an easy thing for a big company to do.

The new ESPN radio app may be the big sleeper announcement that intially gets overlooked and then becomes the thing everyone can’t live without. If the app’s announced ability to act as sort of a radio-broadcast DVR delivers as promised I could see a new wave of “sports radio” emerging where you don’t just tune in to what’s on the air but instead load your device with the latest SportsCenter and maybe a Simmons podcast for the drive to work. That’s a scary thought if you are a local radio talk show trying to compete against ESPN and its massive resources.

I also like the ideas spinning out of the Grantland property, which is interesting at times but is still (I think) trying to find its place and voice. Deeper content vehicles like YouTube, short films and podcasts may be where Grantland finally shines; the real question there may be whether Simmons has enough interest left to drive it toward new ground, instead of continually mining his old and successful but now somewhat tiresome models of mailbags, cousin Vinny episodes, etc. At the very least, ESPN’s doubling down shows it thinks Grantland has legs. Maybe social media will help it run faster.


  1. […] to watch this one, CNBC’s Julia Boorstin asks some good questions, including one about the new Twitter partnership, and also whether or not ESPN will ever offer WatchESPN as an a la carte option (spoiler: they […]

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