Comcast Expands Online Local Sports Teams To Compete With ESPN

While local media outlets slash sports staffs and travel, national players are coming after fans, ad dollars — and each other. ESPN (NYSE: DIS) already has launched local sports sites for Chicago, Boston and Dallas, with plans for New York and Los Angeles in early 2010. Now Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) is building out the companion sites to its five major regional sports networks, expanding staff and scope to attract fans between games. The effort kicked off earlier this month with the launch of what Comcast calls the “most comprehensive and dedicated online local sports destination” Comcast SportsNet New England, an expensive enterprise (detailed here) with local big name writers and some 40 new positions.
Comcast upgraded its Philadelphia sports operations earlier this year. But New England, where Comcast Sports Group also operates New England Cable News (NECN) appears to be the template for the planned expansions in San Francisco, DC/Baltimore and Chicago. although staffing could vary by market. (It’s not hard to see variations of this happening if Comcast gets control of NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) and keeps some or all of the local Comcast Sports Group Chief Digital Officer Eric Grilly told SBJ the expansion is “the single largest investment outside of making an acquisition in the business.”
That includes, according to SBJ:
— staffing two full sites for the Mid-Atlantic network, which already has split TV coverage: and
— starting with beat writers for every professional team in the market, then expanding to local colleges and high schools.
— adding lifestyle and entertainment sections.
Comcast shouldn’t need ESPN or anyone else to push them in this direction. Like Dorothy and the red slippers, they’ve had the potential all along. But as much as Grilly and other Comcast execs know it’s needed for long-term survival, sometimes it takes serious competition to turn potential into reality. That kind of competition though, could wind up hurting the other players in the market — local media outlets.