Will mobile SportsCenter become the go-to stadium app for fans?

New version of ESPN SportsCenter app

New version of SportsCenter app

Now that ESPN’s mobile viewership has overtaken web readers, the worldwide leader in sports is ready to put its most iconic brand — SportsCenter — onto its main highlights mobile app. Our question: Can that app now become the go-to app for fans in stadiums who want to track activities at games they’re not at?

With today’s news that the old “ScoreCenter” app is now being called simply “SportsCenter,” ESPN seems to be going all in with its mobile strategy, which was already aggressive in the past. The main holdout was the ScoreCenter app, which while it conveyed a lot of information (mainly scores and headline links) the very fact that it was called something other than SportsCenter — the name for the network’s mainstay highlights show — seemed to signify that ScoreCenter wasn’t a full and complete offering.

Ryan Spoon, ESPN’s SVP for digital media, was part of a panel I moderated last week at the Open Mobile Summit, where he told attendees that this fall, for the first time, ESPN’s mobile traffic surpassed web traffic, a trend we’ve seen happen for other sports properties. In an interview with GigaOM Spoon said the new SportsCenter app is meant to be “a very strong relative of the TV show,” and our initial download shows a stream of tweets from ESPN personalities along with the kind of news updates you might get while watching an episode of SportsCenter on TV.

Old 'ScoreCenter' app scores page view

Old ‘ScoreCenter’ app scores page

What will be interesting to see is if the mobile version of SportsCenter can become the go-to app for fans sitting in stadiums, since it’s a good guarantee that most of them go home and watch SportsCenter after the game, or on any other day in their life. With fantasy football fans and regular fans who just want to keep abreast of other games and other sports, SportsCenter is usually the starting place for highlights and news.

The real challenge as I see it in the stadium-fan space will be whether or not ESPN is able to provide real-time or at least close to real time replays and highlights, or whether teams and leagues will keep those away from mobile versions of SportsCenter so that their own apps have more pull. One of my biggest beefs with ESPN and online video is that it often puts videos of ESPN commentary inside stories instead of highlight videos, with misleading or unclear labeling that sometimes forces you to watch way more of Lou Holtz babbling than you ever wanted to. But if ESPN can deliver timely highlights to its app the same way it gets them on SportsCenter, other stadium apps might never be able to catch up.

Old ScoreCenter headlines page.

Old ScoreCenter headlines page.

New 'Now' page with Twitter feeds

New ‘Now’ page with Twitter feeds

Better TV info should help with college games

Better TV info should help with college games

ESPN turns the heat up on Soccer Coverage

ESPN has taken another solid step in its effort to provide full soccer coverage to fans worldwide with the introduction of ESPN FC, an effort that will provide umbrella branding for all of its diverse soccer media coverage.

This appears to be the network’s biggest step yet and will include a multilingual, multi-nation push to expand and brand its coverage and will include television, print, Internet, radio and online aspects to the branding effort.

ESPN’s soccer coverage has been a work in progress, and we mean that in a positive way. In the last few months it has been taking incremental steps to improve its coverage even after it lost broadcasting rights to future World Cup tournaments.

There are a number of ingredients to the ESPN FC effort, and not all of them are in place yet. Looking forward it plans to add local and regional contributors so that it has full 24/7 global news coverage of the sport. Hand in hand with that will be the ability to deliver content based on where a fan is accessing the network weather from a mobile device, the Internet or television.

The channel kicks off the new branding effort with its coverage of the Euro 2012 tournament in the Ukraine and Poland. It already had plans to broadcast the matches; they will now be the first to have the new branding as well. For the upcoming tournament ESPN FC will also have a feature called Euro 2012 Top 40 Player Rankings which will include contributions from the network’s soccer experts.

With the European season winding down the new brand will really see an uptick later this year with the start of the new seasons for leagues worldwide will see coverage of more than just the European leagues. As part of this effort ESPN will bring increased soccer coverage to its Spanish language channel into ESPNdeportes.com as well as produce Spanish-language online, mobile and print content for fans.

It looks as if the Soccernet label will also be a thing of the past as it has renamed its global multi-platform soccer debate and discussion show ESPN FC PressPass and done away with ESPNsoccernet PressPass

Other features will include a new version of GameCast called Live MatchHQ that will provide game data and imagery while also providing news and score3s from elsewhere around the league. The May 18th issue of ESPN: The Magazine will include a Euro 2012 preview section with a feature on Wayne Rooney as the cover story.

Last but not least ESPN FC will launch a pair of fantasy games for the Euro 2012 tournament. One is called Euro 2012 Bracket Predictor and the other is Euro 2012 Manager where fans can select fantasy rosters and win points.

ESPN FC appears to be a great idea from ESPN, unifying coverage that at one time was in multiple places and enabling fans to go to a single source for all of their soccer information. While Fox Sports also increasing its coverage especially Premier League coverage, hopefully the competition will make both provide more that fans want, rather than air time fillers that it occasionally seems.

ESPN Scores With Digital Australian Open Viewers

We’re still waiting on some final viewer numbers but according to ESPN digital viewing of the recent Australian Open is up over last year, with the “average minute audience” for the various ESPN platforms covering the event (ESPN.com, the ESPN mobile Web, ScoreCenter, ESPN3 and WatchESPN) up 12 percent from last year.

The digital increase makes sense, especially among a U.S. audience since the Australian Open is one of those U.S. prime-time challenged events, taking place in the wee hours of our mornings when you might be more likely to be sitting in front of a PC screen, tablet or phone instead of keeping everyone else in the house awake with the TV on. Here’s more from ESPN on the digital viewership:

During the two weeks, the tennis section on ESPN.com was up 91 percent in average daily unique visitors and up 177 percent in average daily visits. The ESPN mobile Web tennis section also saw a 54 percent increase in average daily unique visitors and an average minute audience up 36 percent. ESPN3 and WatchESPN generated 113.2 million minutes consumed, up 88 percent compared to the previous year.

Who’s Going to Get the Tablet Rights for NFL Games?

We all know by now that the Super Bowl is going to be streamed live by NBC, and also to Verizon Wireless smartphones via Verizon’s NFL Mobile app. It will be interesting to see what the viewer metrics are after the fact. But the bigger item on the horizon is who will snag the tablet, aka iPad rights for NFL broadcasts going forward?

I was thinking about this potential conflict earlier today when I read a report from my ex-GigaOM collegue Liz Gannes who was covering a talk with ESPN president John Skipper at the D: Dive Into Media conference. Skipper’s crew seems like it has clear vision on what the Worldwide Leader needs to do with mobile, which as we heard yesterday is the prime platform ESPN develops for.

Inside the industry ESPN is unique since it not only is a network, it is also a content creator as well as a clearinghouse for overall information. The latter is mainly SportsCenter, its enormously popular highlights show that dominates the sports world. But more recently ESPN has become a content creator/provider by bidding for broadcast rights to games themselves, across all major sports and a lot of minor ones too.

While finding broadcasts on TV is fairly easy — you just look up to see which network is broadcasting the game — on digital devices the access has been murky. Verizon does have an exclusive deal to show live games on phones, but that’s only covered Monday Night Football, Thursday night NFL Network games and the Sunday NBC games. ESPN, meanwhile, retains MNF rights for tablets but won’t show the games on phones because of Verizon’s deal. DirecTV Sunday Ticket customers this year could opt for a package that gave them access to the Sunday Ticket via mobile — an interesting twist but as a subset of a subset not really a mass-market solution.

The big question still out there is who will get tablet rights for NFL broadcasts going forward? Right now Verizon can’t offer NFL Mobile on an iPad, which would seem to be a bit of a no-brainer except it isn’t. The tablet market, aka iPad, is getting bigger every moment and it will be interesting to see how the tablet rights get broken out, or whether they are bundled into the overall broadcast rights for a hefty increase in fees. According to Liz’s report, ESPN won’t buy rights without all platforms included:

Since 2005, ESPN has made sure that all its content deals include rights for every device. As Skipper put it, “We don’t cannibalize ourself, we use those platforms to cross-promote.”

After several digital stops and starts ESPN seems to have crystalized its mobile thinking behind the WatchESPN idea, where you download an app and have access to all ESPN programming — so long as you also have a contract with a qualifying cable provider. This is a smart move because it keeps the people paying ESPN the big bucks happy, while giving the cable customers the kind of access that is commonplace for all other kinds of media.

Maybe sometime in the future ESPN will offer a non-cable-customer price to access all its content digitally, but for now it seems content to keep its window open only to those customers willing to pay.

Here’s the link to Liz’s story again. Good stuff, wish I was at that conference.

ESPN Practices Less Than Aboveboard Journalism? Say it Ain’t So!

Awful Announcing last week was the latest to take ESPN to task for its well known practice of piggybacking on someone else’s’ news stories and either portraying them as being broken by the WWL or as revealed by “anonymous sources.”

It is becoming an increasingly common complaint among non-ESPN sports reporters that after they break a story ESPN will run with a similar story and attribute it to sources. ESPN then might later credit the proper source, but not always.

The article notes two recent cases where this has happened. Tim Brown of Yahoo broke the Albert Pujols to the Angels and quickly afterward ESPN’s Buster Olney has “sources” that confirm the trade. The second was Brett McMurphy at CBS broke the Big East expansion story and again ESPN missed the boat crediting sources for its version.

In the past it has been noted that reporters such as Fox’s Jay Glazer often break big football stories that are then shown on ESPN’s Mort Report unattributed. But now it seems that more and more people are speaking out against the practice, including a number of ex-ESPN people who certainly must have some insider information on the topic.

The article goes on to provide some pretty funny comments from rivals that show what they think of the practice. One from Greg Doyle notes that “Someday I hope to break a story so big that ESPN credits me, even if it does misspell “Doyel” as “sources”

While this might just seem to be petty sniping, breaking news is hard, and someone that is out in front of the pack on news stories deserves to be credited for their work. I am sure many people have been incensed when someone at their work gets or takes credit for something that you did, ESPN just plays on a bigger stage.

In the rush to get news out quickly it is always possible to forget to properly credit the original source, and no doubt everybody that has done any amount of reporting has probably been guilty of this at least once, but it does seem that it is a fairly common occurrence in Bristol.

ESPN SportsCenter’s TebowTime programming goes No. 1 on Twitter

ESPN on Wednesday dedicated a full hour of SportsCenter to talk about Denver Broncos Quarterback Tim Tebow, and the programming caused #SCTebow to achieve the No. 1 trend ranking on Twitter.

TebowTime was the most successful effort to date by SportsCenter to tailor content to sports social media interaction, and could prove a template ESPN uses in the future to boost ratings during off-peak viewing times.

Here’s how ESPN promoted #SCTebow:

News + Highlights + Tebow RT @ Set your clocks: It’s #TebowTime at 2 p.m. ET on @ #ESPNFR http://t.co/eKNuGOBr



Billed as TebowTime, the SportsCenter programming aired between 2 pm and 3 pm EST.

TebowTime marked one of the first times SportsCenter dedicated the majority of its hour-long news format to a subject that wasn’t breaking news. On July 13, SportsCenter dedicated a large block of its format to the impact of Twitter on sports.

ESPN SportCenter enjoyed cross promotion for its TebowTime sports social media blitz, including this BroncoTalk.com report

TebowTime included highlights of Tebow’s Denver Bronco and Florida Gators comebacks, live reports from the Broncos facility, Skip Bayless debating about Tebow’s merits and reports on Tebow’s impact on Fantasy Football.

Broncotalk.net played SportsCenter’s Tebow Time on its home page, and ESPN’s Front Row blog included extensive coverage of ESPN’s decision.

TebowTime was the brainchild of SportsCenter segment producer Etan Harmelech and championed by coordinating producer Gus Ramsey, producer Tom DeCorte and senior coordinating producer Michael Shiffman.