1995. Jordan returned to basketball. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the San Diego Chargers in the Super Bowl. Forrest Gump won the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture. ESPN.com launched to the world as ESPNETSportsZone (taking the place of its predecessor, Satchel Sports).
When ESPN.com initially came to life (through a partnership between Disney, ESPN and the Paul Allen-backed Starwave) there were no established business models for websites. There were no online fantasy leagues. The site didn’t have editors. Each day, a team of people came into the office and divided up duties.
Aaron LaBerge, now the Executive Vice President and CTO of Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer & International segment, joined just a couple years later and the evolution was already underway.
“ESPN.com helped drive the explosive adoption and technical evolution of what we know today as the modern Internet,” remembers LaBerge. “To deliver what sports fans wanted, we had to invent technology and platforms that didn’t yet exist. Things that seem so obvious today, like ad servers, content management systems, caching servers, personalization, online video (over dial-up!), the first digital fantasy platform. It was a standard-bearer for innovation then and remains that way a quarter-century later.”
As it grew, the site added people and technology; expanded into a sports journalism and feature storytelling powerhouse; helped create household names; pioneered in bringing sports to fans on mobile devices; drove the digital advertising industry forward; brought live sports data, audio streaming, and podcasts to fans; launched more than a dozen editions all over the world; helped establish TV-authenticated streaming; and gave birth to the world’s leading sports app.
Today – a quarter of a century later – it serves fans as the one-stop home for everything ESPN offers fans.
“For 25 years, ESPN.com, and now the ESPN App, have been part of the daily fabric of sports,” explains Sr. Vice President, Digital and Social Content, ESPN, Ryan Spoon. “Each day we connect with tens of millions of fans that love sports like we do. We take great pride and have a strong sense of responsibility to that. Every one of us, no matter the job we have, has the same understanding – our job is ‘To serve sports fans anytime, anywhere.’”
Here is a look at the evolution of ESPN.com over 25 years:
1995: These early sketches were actually for a presence on a Ziff Davis platform similar to AOL and Compuserve. Mike Slade, then CEO of Starwave, decided to focus on an ESPN presence on the web, ESPNET SportsZone.
1996: By then, ESPNET SportsZone already had premium content, league-by-league coverage, live audio, early fantasy games, and more.
2004: When the Boston Red Sox broke “The Curse” in 2004, ESPN.com already had high-quality, in-browser, ad-supported video (ESPN Motion), Page 2, and user-initiated personalization.
2009: ESPN.com in 2009 was rich with video, new advertising units, the interactive polls and games of SportsNation and integration with ESPN360 – a streaming predecessor of ESPN3 and ESPN+.
2015: For its 20th anniversary, ESPN.com had its first complete rebuild in years – coinciding with the relaunch of the ESPN App. With entirely new architecture, the site was faster, mobile-first, and added increasingly sophisticated personalization.
2015-2016: ESPN.com began rolling out editions, in multiple languages, around the world as part of an ongoing, iterative approach to create one unified platform across desktop and mobile. Today there are 14 editions globally.
2019: ESPN Digital – which began with ESPN.com – is overwhelmingly the No. 1 U.S. digital sports property across every key metric, with its best year on record in 2019 with an average of 95.5 million unique visitors per month.
2020: With the launch of ESPN+, ESPN.com and the ESPN App became a true one-stop destination for all things ESPN. The newly redesigned web home for “TV everywhere” authenticated streaming and ESPN+ direct-to-consumer streaming, brings the feel of modern connected device platforms to the Web.
Kristie Adler contributed to this post.