ESPN Launches New York Site in Time for Yanks-Sox Opener

In ad sales terms, the launch of local sports site ESPN New York today is among the sports media giant’s strongest to date. New York’s own Brooklyn Brewery is among the first brands to associate with it, and Tri State Land Rover Dealer Group has also signed on.

However ESPN faces a tough challenge in that it will be competing in one of the most – if not the most – saturated sports media market in the country.

Today’s launch comes just in time for the start of the 2010 Major League Baseball season, which will kick off Sunday night on ESPN2 and its live video site with a meet-up of bitter rivals The New York Yankees and The Boston Red Sox. Presented by BMW, the New York site follows a year of city-centric site launches dedicated to sports coverage in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles. The first site, focused on Chicago, launched last April.

“We felt that we had a year under our belt, learned a lot…and wanted to make sure that our house was in order before we launched [in New York],” said Marc Horine, VP of partnerships and revenue development for ESPN Digital Media.

“It’s been our strongest launch in terms of ad revenue,” among the local sites, Horine added. Local advertisers for the New York site include Brooklyn Brewery, Tri State Land Rover Dealer Group, Anheuser-Busch, Audi, and Stub Hub. Stub Hub has been a launch partner with all five of ESPN’s local sites. Fujifilm is also sponsoring the site’s zoom photo galleries, according to Horine. As launch presenter, BMW is featured on an interstitial page displayed the first time users visit the New York site.

So far, for local sales the company has relied on the existing ESPN radio sales staff based in Chicago, Dallas, and L.A., and an ad rep firm in Boston. However, the company has been building its dedicated digital sales staff. “We’ll be hiring folks that will be strictly dedicated digital sellers” in the tri-state area, which encompasses New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, said Horine. “We have hired specific dedicated digital sellers in other markets,” he continued.

New York site ads will also be sold by staff at ESPN’s local radio station 1050 AM, which Horine referred to as a “very strong local presence.”

“We’re additive,” he explained. “We’re not looking to come into the marketplace and take over… We just think that we’ve got a different approach.” The site will focus on its opinion pieces, in addition to social tools for building community among fans.

That approach will have to stand out among a slew of local newspapers and media outlets dedicated to covering the minutiae of New York sports teams and personalities on an almost immediate basis, including the Web homes of Newsday, New York Post, New York Daily News, Yes Network, SportsNet New York, local sports talk radio station WFAN, and the New York Times. One thing Horine points to as a particular standout for ESPN is its exclusive digital rights to Major League Baseball Advanced Media’s video content.

ESPN also will introduce its rebranding of its ESPN 360 site as ESPN3.com on Sunday. Calling the timing coincidental, Horine said, “We picked this date back in December. We really wanted to come strong out of the gate with the Yankees and the Red Sox playing this weekend.” That game will be featured on ESPN3.com.

Horine told ClickZ News that ESPN has no plans for additional local city sites.

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