The ESPN cable channel, seen in 90 million households, is a must-stop for any channel surfer. But espn.com is the real boys' club. Young men don't show up en masse to anything very often, but where they do, advertisers will spend. That's what makes espn.com, with its devoted audience of guys 18 to 34, a coveted spot.
But luring Web users with hot commentators (Sports Guy columnist Bill Simmons), cool streaming video (ESPN Motion), the latest scores, and top-notch fantasy-league services, ESPN can use in-house promos to send them back out to its other platforms. "We look at our Web site as being like a bazaar with something always going on," says John Kosner, a senior vice-president.
The 10-year-old site is the biggest Internet draw for sports. In August, espn.com had 16.6 million unique visitors, says ComScore Media Metrix. That's far more than its closest rivals, Fox Sports on MSN (MSFT ) (with 12.6 million uniques), nfl.com (12.6 million), and Yahoo! (YHOO ) Sports (12.3 million). SI.com, the Web site of ESPN's magazine rival Sports Illustrated, trails at 5 million. The median age of an espn.com user is 32 vs. 38 for Net users in general.
ESPN doesn't disclose revenues, but Kosner says the Web site makes most of its money from ads. "It offers the big three," says Tim Hanlon, a senior vice-president at media-buyer Starcom MediaVest (PUB ). "Young guys. Sports. And a powerhouse media brand. That's just a home run for advertisers." Subscription revenues at espn.com are growing, too, through its $6.95-a-month Insider and with fantasy services. Broadband's rise will accelerate offerings. And espn360, a customizable high-speed service, showcases super-sharp video and behind-the-scenes coverage. As for rivals, such as a revamped CBS SportsLine, ESPN's Kosner says: Bring it on. "I'd rather be where we are sitting." No kidding.
By Tom Lowry in New York