ESPN Digital Media sets sports category traffic record in September

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Editor’s note: As the digital media industry continues its constant charge forward, measuring all things digital requires innovation and vision to match. We’ll check in with ESPN Research and Analytics occasionally to keep us up to speed.

ESPN Digital Media set an all-time record in September, reaching 72.7 million unique visitors last month across computers, smartphones and tablets, according to comScore’s Multi-Platform data. This was the largest number of individual users ever reached in a single month by any property in the sports category.

We checked in with Dave Coletti, vice president of Digital Media Research & Analytics, to help add perspective to the unprecedented numbers.

To what do you attribute the rise in uniques during September. We’ve had spikes due to football in years past, but this was an all-time high. Why?
We’re benefitting from providing broader levels of content (such as the new front page treatment on college football Saturdays, and the launch of NFL Nation), better product experiences (like the enhanced WatchESPN app), and rapidly increasing fan reliance on mobile platforms (constantly growing reach across mobile web and apps). Plus, we’ve seen our biggest season ever for fantasy football participation, and those players are voracious consumers of content across our platforms.

ESPN’s Dave Coletti.
(Joe Faraoni/ESPN)

You’ve explained the relative value of uniques before, but what does this record mean to ESPN?
It’s validation that we’re fulfilling the ESPN mission to serve sports fans, anytime, anywhere. And it’s notable because our reach is “pure.” We’re not rolling up users across a lot of disparate sites and apps. That being said, we’ve focused on engagement for years and it’s on those metrics where we continue to place the most emphasis. The 73 million uniques is great, but 7.3 billion minutes of usage is staggering.

Do you think this all-time high number for ESPN is a one-time spike or something more of a trend?
We’ve long contended that “leadership” in the category needs to be evaluated on the basis of both reach and engagement. ESPN has led the category in average minute audience, time spent per user, total minutes of usage, total visits and male unique visitors in each of the 13 months since comScore started releasing multi-platform data, so I’d certainly like to see that continue.

It seems like mobile usage is gaining more and more momentum. Is that accurate?
Completely accurate. Mobile was a tremendous driver of traffic in September. For the first time ever, we saw more unique visitors on smartphones and tablets (47.4MM) than on computers (46.1MM). Some 36 percent of ESPN’s reach came exclusively from mobile and 44 percent of our minutes of usage came from mobile. It’s certainly an unmistakable sign of changing fan behavior.

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