Can ESPNLosAngeles.com Draw As Many Readers Away From LA Sports Outlets As It Has Writers?*

December 21, 2009 at 8:00 am in LA, LA bloggers, Media, Online, Sports, Twitter

ESPN’s new online hub for local sports, ESPNLosAngeles.com, officially launched today, providing a new source for LA Sports news, as well as a new home for several LA Sports writers, including the LA Times’ (former) Lakers bloggers.

ESPNLosAngeles.comMeant as a hub for local online sports coverage one could set as their homepage, the site features SoCal-specific “SportsCenter” segments, local breaking news, and direct links to pages for all the major pro teams, including the Galaxy, Chivas USA, the LA Sparks, as well as the Angels and Ducks. There’s also a “Headlines” tab you can click to view nationwide sports headlines, in case you care about what happens outside of our little bubble. ESPN launched similar local sites for Dallas, Boston and Chicago earlier this year, and the sports network opened a new broadcast studio (along with an ESPN Zone sports bar) Downtown at LA Live this past spring.

But the best part of the site is the local team blogs and columnists, providing quick-access to news and columns about your favorite teams that is also easy to subscribe to by e-mail or RSS feed to keep up on everything. The other ESPN city sites have Twitter accounts you can follow as well, but as of this writing, @ESPNLosAngeles exists but hasn’t tweeted a thing. The @ESPNLosAngeles Twitter account is also up and running, providing links to stories on the site. So far there’s a USC blog (but no UCLA blog yet), a Clippers blog (sort of – it links to the outside ClipperBlog.com, part of an ESPN affiliate network), and of course, that Lakers Blog, which is basically a direct transplant from the LA Times’ Lakers Blog. Brian and Andy Kamenetzky, who just yesterday afternoon announced their departure from LATimes.com, pick up at ESPN right where they left off, except now the blog is called “Land O’ Lakers”. The Lakers Blog was regularly one of the most-visited on the site, sometimes getting over a million page views per month. No announcement has been made yet as to who or what will replace the brothers at LATimes.com. It seems that, at least for now, a few different staff writers are taking turns contributing posts to the Lakers Blog to keep it going.

Other columnists at ESPNLosAngeles.com include Ramona Shelburne and Tony Jackson, both formerly of the Los Angeles Daily News, Mark Saxon, late of the Orange County Register, Arash Markazi from Sports Illustrated, and former NBA.com writer Dave McMenamin. Now, granted, in print journalism’s current state a good writing gig with a major brand can be a very special opportunity, but with what amounts to an acquisition of the Lakers Blog, ESPN is clearly looking to take a bite out of the readership of LATimes.com and other local news sources.

The New York Times warned of this back in July, when the LA site was announced following a successful test-run in Chicago:

In less than three months, ESPN Chicago has become the city’s top sports site, attracting about 590,000 unique visitors in June, according to data from comScore, an Internet measurement company. Second place went to The Tribune’s online sports section with 455,000 unique visitors.

ESPN Chicago does not seem to have cut into The Tribune’s online sports audience as much as it has slowed its growth, according to a review of the traffic data.

At The Los Angeles Times, which is about to face ESPN head-on, the associate editor, Randy Harvey, said: “It would be foolish to underestimate ESPN, but it comes down to resources. I don’t see them being able to replicate what we do.”

Of course, Harvey said this well before the LAT lost two bloggers, but it did follow the Times shutting down team-specific blogs such as those for USC and UCLA and merging them all with The Fabulous Forum back in February. Many of their niche blogs have been shut down in the past year, but its doubtful a blog on such a popular subject that arouses so much as passion in Angelenos would be eliminated or folded into another blog. It remains to be seen how many of the Kamenetzky brothers’ readers will follow them to ESPN after years of loyalty, or how many might stay behind to see what the Times has in store for the future.

Now, lots of readers, myself included, read stories from both ESPN.com and the LA Times already, so this new addition may not make a huge difference, at least not yet. But as ESPNLosAngeles.com grows and adds more blogs (you know a Dodger’s blog has got to be coming, right?) and handy Twitter accounts for all the teams like ESPN’s Dallas and Boston sites have, its appeal could widen and pull more readers from LA Times and elsewhere, as well as provide new content to ESPN fanatics who don’t follow a lot of local sports online otherwise.

The one thing I can tell you for sure, though, is that (since, for some silly reason, ESPN still hasn’t bought it and people have already started incorrectly using the URL), the dude who owns the domain ESPNLA.com is about to make a lot of dough.

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