Does ESPN.com have a twitter problem ?

Over the last two years things have changed. We all found twitter. We found Facebook. Not only did we find twitter and fb, but our phones got much, much smarter. Tablets popped on the scene. We were able to get everything sports we wanted in the palm of our hands. No matter where we were.

ESPN responded. THey knew that twitter was becoming a HUGE generator of pageviews. The lifeblood of ESPN.com. If you couldn’t reach an audience on twitter , those with an audience on twitter could and will take pageviews from ESPN.com. Sending them elsewhere.  COuld it be big enough to be a game changer ? Maybe.

In the past, sports fans first stop in the search for sports news would be  ESPN.com .  Twitter changed all that. Twitter means we dont have to go to ESPN.com, we just check our twitter stream. Those people we follow always send us the updates we needed right to us. And we like it.  And if we want more information, we just clink on the links they send us.

Today, sports news finds millions and millions of sports fans first via twitter. Unfortunately for ESPN.com, they don’t control any ad space on your tweet stream.  ESPN no longer makes a penny from the first sports news you receive. Thats not good for them.

So they responded. THeir reporters started tweeting. Tweeting in whatever ways they could come up with to generate pageviews. Because pageviews on ESPN.com still paid their bills and allowed them to keep their jobs.

It hasnt worked.

ESPN.com reporters havent had a lot of success getting followers on Twitter.  Some columnists like Bill Simmons have. The vast majority of their reporters have under 100k followers and many of those, as best I can tell, have under 10k . Which in a nutshell means, the world wide leader in sports doesn’t have much in the way of muscle to drive traffic from twitter users to their sites. That is a risk

Their deficiency in twitter followers is not for lack of trying.  Over the past 9 months or so, their reporters are becoming more and more like tweeting columnists and less and less like tweeting reporters. Which makes a ton of sense if you think about it. THeir reporters have a far better chance of attracting a following if they are throwing out witty one liners ala Bill Simmons than by throwing out dry facts or quotes. Facts and quotes   aren’t  going to entertain or attract the masses.  Wit and controversy and rumors might.

But they haven’t . That might turn into  a real problem for ESPN. Twitter and Facebook are becoming primary traffic drivers to websites. Other sports sites now have an open window to drive traffic by attacking ESPN on the twitter and facebook front.

Will they put espn out of business. Of course not. But its not inconceivable that by hiring writers with big , loyal twitter followings, a competitor or upstart could take over the first level of access to sports fans  Something that ESPN has owned for years.  That would be a twitter problem for ESPN. It may already be a twitter problem for ESPN.

36 thoughts on “Does ESPN.com have a twitter problem ?

  1. Beaware of Kobe Bryant please. He is a viper, just as he calls himself The Black Mamba. He lost 2 games. He will be a criminal in the next game, just as He had done in many post games. He will use his elbow, knee, fist and other weapons to hurt Mavs. Beaware! He is a dirty guy. Remember my words, Cuban. Please.

    Comment by gongyouchang -

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  4. there used to be a programming acronym back in the day- GIGO, stood for garbage in garbage out. This problem is not just @ ESPN but is prevalent in all business markets. 99% of the content across social media platforms is garbage and therefore gets an appropriate response – garbage. People respect and will only buy from credible sources; trustworthy people. Remember, a leader without any followers is just a guy taking a walk. Focusing on the message is the only solution to create lasting relationships that build business. http://tinyurl.com/6hlsepd

    Comment by Managed Media -

  5. Good article, unfortunately I kept thinking about how Ocho Cinco was taunting ESPN over twitter, lol… Keep up the posts!

    http://typesofteeth.com/

    Comment by ynky711 -

  6. I would think that ESPN.com, while a great resource, is much like Bloomberg Businessweek is to the BMG — a loss leader that helps their primary product (TV channel) stay at the front of their customer’s minds. Many of the ads seem to be the same as on the network itself, meaning they are using it as a value add to drive the already premium 25-54 advertisers to saddle up.

    Comment by rex0810 -

  7. I think a more proper way to get more twitter traffic would be to have several ESPN Twitter Masters in charge of disseminating the type of sports updates people would find most relevant. I also believe that twitter use as part of a corporate mandate will only miss the mark. If you want to make it someone’s job to tweet, okay, but if you’re tweeting to “keep up” then you’re playing the game wrong. It’s got to be individuals who are genuinely motivated to tweet rather than someone who thinks they should tweet cuz that’s where all the cool kids are at. Seriously, there are so many times where I’ll flip to a sports home page on ESPN, glance at the tweets, and just groan at their lameness. There might be some great ESPN staff tweets, but seeing these awful ones just turns me off to ever wanting to follow any of them. It should probably be part of the twitter masters’ job to decide which tweets are worth retweeting. Like today, how many ESPN columnists do I need tweeting observations of about the One Shining Moment when any of my friends are being just as clever or moreso within that word limit? In the case of tweets being on any of the homepages, espn should follow a less is better approach…much, much better.

    Comment by jnonyema -

  8. Yeah, I don’t think espn has or will have a twitter problem. I just think other parts of their site need a fringe division akin to what Truehoop is for the NBA section. It has a sort of natural youth and cleverness that doesn’t remind you of your boss or older co-worker trying hard to be cool. I remember a few Around the Horn segments revolving around reporters getting in trouble for tweeting conjecture and innuendo, and these established reporters who are understandably a bit fearful of the same happening to them just end up being dry in their tweets. At the same time, I’m a bit confused as to whom is leaching people away from ESPN with their tweets. If I’m really curious about a game or a story 140 characters isn’t going to do it for me unless it’s some sort of breaking news, but generally I don’t care about breaking sports news because as much as I enjoy it it’s just sport.

    Comment by jnonyema -

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  10. ESPN does have a twitter account. http://twitter.com/espn

    However, I don’t necessarily want to hear all of the ESPN news that ESPN NEWS is fit to twit.

    This is where internet and twitter curation comes in. Curators are the people that actually sift through ALL THE STORIES, and find the ones that relate to a certain theme. ESPN probably can’t do that from one twitter site because their viewers have specific sporting interests, that is why they need to interact with popular twitter accounts that repeat stories that ESPN first reports.

    Individuals find twitters with the specific sports blend that they are comfortable with. Those sporting news blends are just going to be different, there is no one size fits all.

    I would also suggest that people not confuse ESPN newscrapers with being the same thing as the actual source of the news story.

    Comment by alexlogic -

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  13. I think Mr. Cuban is correct, but this is and should be a concern for all sports websites/aggregators/bloggers etc, not just the big guys like ESPN.

    For example:

    In past years, i would scan Tim Dierkes MLBTR blog every few days. So at least 4-5 times per week, i was navigating to his website and (indirectly) viewing the ads on his website. I would scan the titles of all the posts and read the ones that appealed to me.

    Now, MLBTR is in my twitter feed, and because they list the player names in each twitter post, i ONLY navigate to his website if a specific post appeals to me. I visit his website likely 1-2 times per week now.

    So MLBTR has lost a significant percentage of my page views because of its twitter feed, but it must have the twitter feed to compete.

    I think you are right; ESPN isnt going to be beaten, but the height of the walls surrounding the ESPN fortress is not as high. This is why they are forced to pay Simmons and Kiper and some of these guys so much money.

    What i think the writers should do, is get organized behind a reputable editor, and build and own their own media company. But by and large, they are unwilling (or unable) to forgo the short-term loss in salary, to take equity in something more long-term.

    Comment by jeffespncomment -

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  16. I’d love to hear how this is changing how you think about media relations from the perspective of the Mavericks. It would seem that giving access to “reporters” that have huge twitter followings rather than those with media credentials could be beneficial in building a base for the team. It would also seem that their followers would be larger purchasers of merchandise over the casual fan.
    Have you guys done any research in this? What do you think you’ll do with regards to the Mavericks media strategy?

    Comment by Ted -

  17. ESPN.com is not only under attack — so is the the live ESPN broadcast. Live game commentary from local beat reporters, non-ESPN national sports press, and leading team blogs/fan sites on Twitter and Facebook often surpasses the quality of the on-air commentary from ESPN’s national teams and personalities. With the arrival of second screens (laptops, phones, tablets) in the living room and social TV applications, fans are increasingly tuning out large parts of the ESPN broadcast in favor of more insightful, more partisan, or more personalized real-time social feeds. And with that shift of viewer attention away from the big screen/network will go ad dollars.

    Comment by ericfree -

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  21. use the twitta, foo!

    -Mr. T.-

    Comment by Richard Allen -

  22. It’s so much easier to follow your favorite writers on twitter which will bring you sports news a lot faster than a website will. Back in January when the San Francisco 49ers were hiring Jim Harbaugh, I was glued to twitter. It was the same story during last years NFL draft.

    ESPN needs to promote their writers more on twitter and their writers need to report more on twitter as well. Guys like Todd Mcshay and Mel Kiper Jr. barely tweeted until now and they still don’t put up much interesting content. A lot of TSN’s writers are tweeting constantly and have good content in their tweets. Same goes for other sports networks. ESPN just needs to wake up and understand people prefer twitter; it’s a faster and more efficient way to relay information.

    Comment by Beyond the Score -

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  25. Full reaction and blog post here (with supporting images)
    http://ryanspoon.com/blog/2011/04/03/my-response-to-mark-cubans-does-espn-com-have-a-twitter-problem/

    But in summary:

    In short, ESPN does not have a Twitter problem. Like all other media networks, they have a Twitter opportunity. ESPN has a tremendous brand, a powerful promotional platform, and 100s of great personalities who can together leverage social media to enhance the ESPN.com experience. Here are three ways to get there:

    1. Solve Finding & Promotion.

    The primary problem is that big publishing networks like ESPN have big networks of writers / personalities. That creates a serious problem in finding and following the relevant personalities.

    I am a paying ESPN Insider Subscriber. ESPN knows explicitly and implicitly that I like the Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics – and I visit ESPN Boston. But this the ESPN Boston homepage and there is no promotion (let alone mention) of the writers I should follow on Twitter / Facebook. I should be able to subscribe instantly to all related writers.

    Other ideas:

    - ESPN.com/twitter should list out Twitter handles by popularity, team, relevance, etc
    - ESPN personalities should have Twitter pages that promote other personalities and/or ESPN.com/twitter
    - ESPN should build and promote Twitter lists
    - Articles on ESPN should promote writer’s Twitter handles (this would be a good example of In the River marketing right?)

    2. Ensure an On-brand Voice (not uniform – But on-brand).

    A couple things to get out the way:
    - we are following these writers primarily because of their expertise… that is because:
    - there are very few personalities like Bill Simmons
    - therefore, there is a difference between their professional and personal Twitter accounts (or habits)

    So publishing networks who promote their writers should ensure a consistent voice. This does NOT mean that ESPN writers should all engage similarly (Bill Simmons and Buster Olney are both great and very, very different). But it does mean that ESPN should make sure that their personalities are engaging appropriately and on-brand on Twitter…. just as they do within ESPN.com articles.

    For every Buster Olney, Colin Cowherd, and Bill Simmons – there is a Jemele Hill. Here Twitter description is: “Jemele Hill is an ESPN columnist and television analyst. I tweet a lot. If you don’t like it, keep it to yourself! “. Now Jemele may be a great reporter and sports thinker, but she is annoying on Twitter (sorry). She often posts dozens of times an hour on subjects irrelevant to sports and ESPN. But she has 40,000+ followers and affects how we think about ESPN (and their writers’) roles in social media.

    Give me more Buster Olneys to follow. I’ll appreciate the writers more. I’ll visit ESPN more. And I’ll appreciate the brand more.

    3. Engage with Fans & Follow Social Media Best-Practices.

    This is simple: engaging in social media has to be more than just linking to an article. Twitter and Facebook represent opportunities to behave in ways that traditional media doesn’t afford. For instance:

    - real-time commentary
    - commentary beyond the article or in-response to reactions
    - engaging with readers and fans: questions, comments, responses, etc.
    - provide behind-the-scenes access that is better suited for Twitter than an article
    - cross promote other content, writers, etc

    Darren Rovell of Sports Biz on CNBC is great at this. Here are a few examples:

    Comment by Ryan -

  26. Great Read Mark. I agree as I believe I’m just one of the guys giving ESPN.com a run for their money. No I don’t think I’ll knock the big boy down, but I do take readers away by blogging and tweeting with my DIE-HARD Jets fans. Here is my take: http://jetstwit.com/2011/04/03/twitter-is-the-game-changer-for-sports-news-online/

    Comment by emanassy -

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  28. Ha! Yes…just ask my wife…she’ll tell you my opinion isn’t worth anywhere near two cents in real market value! ;-)

    Comment by falicon -

  29. Is your two cents adjusted for inflation? ;)

    Comment by Matches Malone -

  30. I think it’s really just a case of ESPN not realizing why they were really successful and owned the market for so long…it wasn’t because they had great content…and it wasn’t because they were so entertaining or even a *must* read…I think it was because they were the easiest way to get the deepest sports coverage…but it still meant sitting through 10 minutes of Tennis news or 5 minutes of Baseball stats just to get to that one minute update on the NFL team you care about or the NBA rumor you wanted some details on.

    Twitter now changes this completely…consumers can trim the fat themselves much much easier than ever before…they can pick and choose what *they* view as quality (rather than have it decreed to them from the powers that be).

    This leaves companies like ESPN in a big delima…their existing model isn’t going to stick around much longer…so they’ve got to find something new to stay relevant…one approach is to push the writers as the stars (but then they’ve got to lock them down or risk losing them as they get popular)…another approach is to get deeper with the content (not sure how large that market actually is though)…

    But the approach I *think* they should give a shot is in picking the best sports content/writers from around the internet…always be the first to identify it…and always add some value to the content…and if they can consistently pull that off, then the consumers will go back to relying on them as *the* source for sports information…

    It’s going to be really hard for brands to continue to make money on content generation and control (I think that option is shifting to the individual writers)…so to me the best play for brands right now is to focus more on the experience (tie more to emotion) and get better at aggregation, quality selection, and promotion…

    Anyway, just my two cents ;-)

    Comment by falicon -

  31. I have more of an issue with ESPN reporters on Twitter linking to stories that often times are only visible by subscribing to their pay wall otherwise known as Insider. After A couple of click through’s from links on their tweets that wanted me to sign up in order to read the story they were referencing, I was looking for the unsubscribe button…

    Comment by bschwartz1964 -

  32. ESPN is missing out more with the team/school fan sites than Twitter links. Every major team has at least a couple of outlets who are completely dedicated to covering them. These sites along with the community present on their message board have 3 things ESPN will never have. 1) Better access leading to more consistent and accurate scoops, 2) a community of anonymous posters with some program sources amidst them, and 3) user-generated topics operate as a filter of all the news and sports world giving users stories that are more likely to appeal to them. ESPN needs to forget about scoops…they are too thinly stretched to consistently get scoops. They need to focus on the commentary and sharing what the news means. ESPN the news source (not the programming side) is going the way of SI in the 90′s. They are the network news of the sports reporting…few detailed profiles and briefly touching on the major stories of the day.

    You mention Simmons. His greatest strength is his ability to give meaning to the news (his commentary), not reporting it. If ESPN goes hard after the scoops, they will lose. They can’t afford to be wrong and frankly, it’s not worth the risk because they are seen by so many people everyday. ESPN is the authority in the sports world, not the detective hot on the trail.

    Comment by mattcario -

  33. This post made me think about how I still actually go to ESPN.com to check scores and watch recaps and maybe read a column or two on the Mavs. Even though I have a frequently used twitter and facebook I haven’t even thought about using twitter to get score updates and other stuff from other sources. Maybe I’ll end up slowly gravitating away from ESPN.com, but that really depends on how valuable and scarce their content is. If they have good talent I’ll still be tuning in to hear my favorite writer’s take.

    Perhaps ESPN.com should look at this backwards… go out onto twitter/facebook and find those sports writers/local bloggers who have huge followings and then pay them to write exclusive stuff on ESPN.com.

    The traffic being driven by twitter/fb has disrupted and opened up competition for sports sites which means ESPN needs to look for ways to leverage social networking, have writers whose work is in demand with fans, and get clever and creative with innovation to keep ahead of the other sports sites.

    Comment by jstevens2009 -

  34. Wow, talk about forgetting to dot the “I”.

    I meant to write, “If I had been hired by ESPN….

    Comment by alexlogic -

  35. It’s because ESPN writers don’t have have enlightening or entertaining things to say in less than 140 characters (some would argue, they wouldn’t even with more characters). Bottom line: if you aren’t funny or making me think – I’m probably not going to be subscribing.

    Comment by Steve -

  36. If had been hired by ESPN as a consultant to solve the dilemma Mark has so accurately depicted above regarding how ESPN can benefit from ESPN stories that go viral on twitter, I would recommend the following.

    Study who on twitter is an ESPN mover and a shaker. I would identify the top thousand ESPN twitter sites that are doing the best job of attracting followers with their ESPN updates, and I would suggest that ESPN pay for micro advertising on those top ESPN twitter sites.

    The terms would be completely negotiable. What could ESPN afford to spend every month to make the top thousand ESPN twitter sites happy? What if it took 250 bucks per popular ESPN twitter site per month? What would ESPN get for their 250,000 dollar twitter micro advertising monthly budget?

    There exists a combination of budgeting versus return that would be a win for the top ESPN twitter sites and ESPN. All kinds of Incentives could be offered as well. Each ESPN twitter site could get one “top 33 exclusive”, meaning 33 of the sites would get the same exclusive out of the 1,000 twitter sites once a month. The idea being that once a month each top 1,000 ESPN twitter site would get a “scoop”.

    So what would make all of this work? The ESPN sports stars who twitter. Would they be willing to feed ESPN some of their own scoops, so ESPN could redirect those scoops to their own top 1,000 ESPN twitter sites?

    The specifics won’t necessarily be as I described them above, that was just one example. The key point being there are enough ESPN sports nuts who actually deserve to be micro-ad’d by ESPN because they keep ESPN in the public eye, it just becomes up to ESPN to re-design their advertising so that they begin to include the best ESPN twitter sites.

    Comment by alexlogic -

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