How ESPN has geared up to rule the digital world

ESPN on twitter

The company motto for sports media giants ESPN is one every competitor would also aspire for – “To serve sports fans wherever sports are watched, listened to, discussed, debated, read about or played.”

But is it possible for a television broadcasting giant to hold the sort of relevance it aspires for in the days of twitter, vine and instagram when the best moments and plays are being shared and discussed by anybody and everybody? After all, have we not heard enough about traditional media brands struggling in the digital world?

David Pierce of The Verge has gone inside the hyper-charged office of ESPN to get answers to how the company intends to stay ahead of the game in the ever changing landscape of content distribution. If you have time to spare, head here to read the full article. If you’re in a hurry, here are the key points:

The Key Challenge – ESPN’s not okay with Chipper winning the Vine battle anymore

When Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants made this stunning catch in the NFL game against the Dallas Cowboys, a vine of the play by a user named Chipper was uploaded in a matter of seconds, a full 15 minutes before ESPN could share the same from their account. Chipper’s Vine has received over 7 million views and ESPN is determined to not let this happen again.

ESPN’s two fold strategy

  • The company has reorganized to promote more sharing across platforms
  • A complete overhaul and upgrade of ESPN’s technology to make it faster, more efficient, and more capable than before

When something huge happens — Odell Beckham makes an earth-shattering catch, Usain Bolt breaks another world record, a minor league hockey fight breaks out while the players are all wearing Batman costumes — the SportsCenter team can cut highlights while the mobile team grabs the play that matters and sends it to your phone with a push alert. Meanwhile, the crew can put together a clip of the five best catches of all time, while the social media team is making GIFs.

Building #13, Transmission, and the satellite farm (Photo by Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)

ESPN has been a leader in sports technology for decades now and it is not necessarily a surprise that they continue to be innovative and finding solutions to complex problems in the digital age as well. Access to funds that enable heavy investment is of course a big help.

It is the ability of an organization as large as them to understand the changing dynamics and adapt structurally that is and may continue to be the key to them winning the battle for digital relevance. Quoting senior ESPN executive Rob King, the article says:

“The best part, and the most fun, is when Odell Beckham does something you’ve never seen before. And that’s when it’s like alright, where is everybody? And what is this like? And how does this show up in the social space? And how can we compare it to other catches? And, you know, we’ve got the ESPYs coming up in July, how do we make sure that that’s going to be a play of the year nominee?” This is the tension, King says: the best time to be a sports fan is when the crazy things happen. But that’s when it’s also hardest to be a sports network.

And it is the ability to continue excelling in the hardest parts that will perhaps decide how loyal fans remain to the iconic brand in the decades to come.

The following video produced with the article summarizes the challenges from ESPN’s point of view.