Why ESPNChicago? Why Now?

Site seems less about users and more about ads

Yesterday was ESPN Chicago's first day as a brand new Web site, and it kicked off primarily through a painful Chris Berman-narrated version of Sportscenter and a column by national Page 2 columnist Scoop Jackson. The column is called "Why Chicago?" and attempts to answer, in typical Scoop Jackson fashion ("no one got swagger like us", etc.) why ESPN chose Chicago as its first local site.

Fortunately for Scoop, he doesn't have to explain why ESPN would want Chicago. We get that. What we're wondering is why Chicago would want ESPN -- or at least this version of it.

See, the business plan is simple. ESPN gathers all of the Chicago-related material they already have, columnists like Jackson and Gene Wojciechowski; video pieces produced by the SportsCenter staff; radio personalities on local ESPN affiliate WMVP 1000; and AP wraps of local sports teams. Add a few blogs, give it a shine and a polish and ESPN's fresh redesign, and voila: an ESPN site. The main benefit for the network here is its ability to sell ads on this thing. That was a much more difficult proposition when some ESPN users were drifting to the radio site, and some were just using the national one. Now ESPN can show advertisers a specific, targeted audience, which means higher penetration and more money in the network's pocket. Simple enough.

The only problem is that while the ESPN brand is strong indeed, when you peel away the glaze, the site is far less compelling than its national counterpart. Why do users need to stay? What are they missing? If it's the seven-minutes-long morning Sportscenter from Chris Berman, well, ESPN will have to do better than that; local TV sites like Comcast are already offering plenty of video packages in the morning, and we'll do anything to get away from Berman's nonsensical 1970's music references. (True story: He referred to the White Sox outfielder as Jermaine "Live and Let" Dye yesterday. Urge to gouge out one's eyeballs: rising.)

So for now, ESPN Chicago feels like two things. One: A targeted cash grab. And two: A conveniently timed alternative to the fates of the city's local newspapers, whose sports sections may or may not survive through the current newspaper crisis. Newspaper? Why would you need a newspaper? ESPN has BLOGS, people! BLOGS! Do not fear your new overlords. ESPN comes in peace, drenched in Drinkability spots.

Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, eamonnbrennan.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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