Editor’s Note: In celebrating its 20th anniversary, ESPN.com unveiled its new site Wednesday. It’s the first major makeover of ESPN.com in more than five years, and it is completely rebuilt from the ground up. This week, Front Row presents discussions with ESPN.com’s leaders past and present exploring the sports news and information site’s growth.
Over the past 20 years, ESPN has been at the forefront of digital advertising. From postage stamp size banners in the late 1990s, to the introduction of video ads in the mid 2000s, to the current high-impact “Video Showcase,” ESPN continuously pushed the industry forward. Marc Horine (VP, digital revenue and operations) shares some key moments in time as it relates to the evolution of ESPN’s digital ad experiences:
Marc Horine: 2001 – “Back then, the biggest ad unit was a 468×60. So we introduced the “Big Ad Unit,” the brainchild of our president, John Skipper (then head of ESPN New Media), who wanted to jump start digital advertising and create a USA Today-like ad.”
In addition to ad innovation, ESPN.com across digital platforms has grown remarkably in scale in its 20-year history. Its reach is at an all-time high and the level of engagement has never been better. We spoke to David Coletti (VP, digital research and analytics) about ESPN.com’s audience through the years:
How much has ESPN.com’s audience grown compared to the earlier years of the site?
The earliest marketplace data we have for ESPN.com is from 1998, and that year the site averaged 4.3 million unique visitors per month. Fast forward to 2015 and ESPN.com reached 74.2 million people in the U.S., and we reached 94 million people in total across all of our digital web, app and video content. Perhaps even more impressive is increase in the volume of usage we’ve seen for ESPN’s digital content. In 1998 ESPN.com received 1.2 million visits each day – that grew to 24.7 million visits a day last year. Needless to say, our growth has been staggering.
What are the top 10 most popular clubhouse pages of all-time on ESPN.com?
We have robust clubhouse data going back to when we instrumented the site for Adobe Analytics in late 2007. Over the past seven-plus years the clubhouses that have generated the most views are: (1) Los Angeles Lakers, (2) New York Yankees, (3) Dallas Cowboys, (4) Alabama Crimson Tide football, (5) Oregon Ducks football, (6) San Francisco 49ers, (7) New England Patriots, (8) Atlanta Braves, (9) Green Bay Packers and (10) Ohio State Buckeyes football. Four NFL teams, three college football teams, two MLB teams and one from the NBA – it’s certainly an illustration of just how much football drives traffic for ESPN.com.
How far along have we come in measuring usage on digital platforms and what more needs to be done?
It’s remarkable how much our measurement has evolved. As recently as a decade ago, measuring ESPN digital mostly entailed merely tracking the ESPN.com website on computers. Today, measuring ESPN digital means tracking a bevy of websites that are accessed on computers, smartphones and tablets, in addition to apps that live on hundreds of mobile devices powered by several different operating systems and on-demand and live streaming video content that is programmed across all those platforms. In fact last year across all of our digital properties, products and platforms, we sent more than three hundred billion server calls that generated our analytics data. And since there are dozens of variables attached to each server call, we processed trillions of data points that allow us to understand fan behavior. The future will be about connecting fan activity across devices, and using analytics data operationally to power personalized and targeted experiences. I couldn’t be more exited for it.