What’s missing from ESPN’s UK soccer package? A website to go with the TV coverage. But the U.S. network has confirmed to us it is preparing a UK sports portal to accompany the broadcasts.
We reported this month that the company was hiring senior online editorial staff to work at its London HQ. ESPN’s digital media VP for EMEA Tom Gleeson tells us ESPN.co.uk will also encompass Cricinfo and ESPNSoccernet in the coming months. The site will give fans an overview of the big sports stories of the day, regardless of whether they relate to sports whfor whichere ESPN (NYSE: DIS) has rights.
ESPN’s MD for EMEA Lynne Frank told me in July that the acquisition of English Premier League TV rights would spur the company to boost is digital properties in the UK — but the site is only at the planning stage and a launch is thought to be months not weeks away, despite the all-conquering UK football season already being in full swing. Gleeson tells paidContent:UK in an interview that ESPN.co.uk will help promote its other assets, but will be a destination for original sports content in its own right.
— Site synergies: “It’s will be a sports site that’s relevant to the market, supports and is supported by the TV channel and taps into the huge range and diversity of our sports verticals – whether that’s on (US-facing) ESPN.com or from our sites in Argentina and Brazil,” says Gleeson. He says the model could work in territories like Australia where the company has a large online audience through Cricinfo and ESPNSoccernet.com. Gleeson stresses the site will be editorially-led and not just an exercise in promoting ESPN sites and channels. ESPN is also hiring for ESPNSoccernet and ESPNCricinfo in a sign of growing resources being allocated to its UK push.
— VOD prospects: ESPN is known to most American sports fans for its on demand online video — ESPN360.com offers all manner of live action and highlights. What chance UK viewers will get the same VOD treatment? Gleeson says: “In truth I don’t know. We will look to acquire rights when we can, when it makes commercial sense to do so.” The restrictive rights system for many British sports would make a similar service difficult. However, there are opportunities to publish original ESPN content online — post-match analysis or big-game build-up from studio pundits.
— What’s in a name?: ESPN.co.uk was launched in July as a marketing tool for the ESPN UK TV channel — but no name has been decided for the forthcoming portal. ESPN.com is the company’s US-facing main portal and while the UK site will mirror its mixture of news, stats and clips from ESPN coverage, it may not share a name.