ESPN announced on Monday that it is expanding its NFL Nation network by creating sites for all 32 NFL teams. The collection of team sites will be staffed by industry-leading reporters in every NFL city. In addition, each site will feature original posts while curating team-specific content from across ESPN platforms and linking to other relevant sources, making NFL Nation a top destination for fans.
Front Row spoke with ESPN.com Vice President and Editor-in-Chief Patrick Stiegman to learn more about what’s planned for the launch of NFL Nation and ESPN’s NFL coverage this season.
How long has ESPN been planning this version of NFL Nation?
We hatched the concept, candidly, simultaneous to the launch of the divisional blogs as part of NFL Nation nearly five years ago. This expansion was always a planned iterative approach, and both the market conditions, the collective learnings from our local efforts to date and the ability to provide the appropriate editing infrastructure made the timing right to launch this for the 2013 season.
Our divisional coverage provided a great service to NFL fans, and it was a beta-test, of sorts, a proof of concept that the football audience — especially the most avid fans — values ESPN’s expertise both on national-level NFL content, as well as team-specific coverage. Our goal now is to dive even deeper, ramp up the coverage on a team-basis and serve fans in an even more personalized approach.
Will ESPN now look to cover other pro leagues and top college conferences the same way?
We are always looking to provide more depth, insight, analysis and news for fans at a specific-team level. We’ve done that consistently with our ESPN local sites in New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles and Dallas; we’ve done that with our college RecruitingNation sites and dedicated contributors in every major college football conference; and we’ve done it, on a national/local level, with the tremendously popular “Heat Index” in the NBA. With NFL Nation, in fact, we’ll have committed coverage of 65 major professional and college teams across the country. We are only scratching the surface of the opportunities.
In a recent Poynter interview, [ESPN’s SVP for Content, Digital & Print media] Rob King mentioned that you examined data for how much time fans spent on the top 100 teams that ESPN.com covered. What did you learn?
First, there is an insatiable appetite for objective, credible coverage of all 32 NFL teams — all made that top 100 cut. But it’s also clear that there are scores of major college programs, NBA, MLB and other pro sports teams that resonate deeply with fans, both in the local market and nationally — and that’s not to mention our opportunity to drive increased club-specific coverage in other sports, such as the Premier League as part of ESPNFC.com.
Describe the process of hiring so many new NFL Nation writers. What’s been the biggest challenge?
Our objective, as always, was to identify and build a diverse team of first-class journalists with distinct voices, experienced reporters with multimedia skills and indefatigable work ethics, authoritative and credible analysts who can contribute to our all of our platforms — print, digital, TV, audio and social. It’s been an intense search, one in which we wanted to move quickly, but not hastily — we’re committed to this project for the long-term, and wanted to be sure we made the best hire in each market.
From an editing standpoint, how is NFL Nation organized?
It begins with the guidance and leadership of Patricia Mays, our senior director for professional sports, and John Banks, senior deputy editor for NFL, who have been exemplary in developing this project. They will oversee a number of assigning editors, who will work directly with the reporters, and partner with our news and blog editing teams, who will manage and integrate all of the content on our digital platforms. These editors will also help coordinate our NFL Nation coverage with colleagues across other platforms. The editing team is the backbone of the network, ensuring quality amidst all the quantity.
Is there a formal launch date for NFL Nation on ESPN.com?
We have made tremendous progress in a very compressed time-frame, and are in the process of finalizing the final few markets. The NFL Nation expansion will launch on Aug. 28, a week ahead of the NFL season opener. We will have 32 team pages by the season opener, and will have all of our dedicated reporters in place as quickly as possible.
What are you most excited about with this new initiative?
As an editor, it’s a remarkable honor to work with an unprecedented collection of talented reporters and writers, both as part of NFL Nation and our existing national NFL team. I look forward to hyper-serving fans of each team, driving Insider subscription growth and creating substantial audiences and inventory opportunities for our national and local sales teams. But candidly, it’s as a consumer that I’m most excited: I simply can’t wait to digest all of the rich coverage that will be bursting out of the pages of NFL Nation (full disclosure: as native Wisconsinite, I’m pre-disposed to coverage of the Green Bay Packers, so you can bet new NFL Nation reporter Rob Demovsky will get some traffic from my IP address). Seriously, the depth, breadth and authority of our storytelling, at both team and national levels, will be amazing.