Monday, September 14, 2009

ESPN and Local Coverage

Tossing it up to JC Bradbury at Sabernomics on this one. Apparently, ESPN is getting into the local sports business through their market-specific websites. The first launch was Chicago, with Boston, LA, and New York to follow. JC has some interesting points about where the local writers will end up.

One thing I'm curious about that I don't see mentioned is whether this is a first step for ESPN to get into the local RSN business. Currently, local markets like Boston have networks such as NESN (partly owned by the Red Sox)--or WGN in Chicago--that do most of the local sports coverage. Given the resources ESPN has, and the already dominant expertise in the sports broadcasting business, I wonder if it's feasible for them to buy out companies like NESN. It would have to be worth the teams' while (especially the Red Sox or other team-owned local networks) to give up significant local advertising revenue in exchange for a contract from ESPN. Then again, ESPN would be quite a tough competitor and have some leverage to buy them out in that way. If ESPN has most of the local beat writers or announcer-types on their staff (as Bradbury suggests), I don't see it being completely out of the question for them to branch out in that way.

One concern I have is the way contracts are currently structured with the Big 4 Leagues and ESPN. I'm not read up on those, and local broadcasting could be limited for them. It would be interesting to see how an ESPN Boston Brodcast (televising Bruins and Celtics games) could legally compete with NESN while currently having contracts with MLB and the Red Sox. I guess in theory ESPN already competes with NESN for viewership. However, it's currently at a more general level, as it's not necessarily regional-specific competition. Anyone have more information on that?

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