ESPN: “Mobile is the Primary Way We Reach an Audience”

ESPN: “Mobile is the Primary Way We Reach an Audience”


After revolutionizing the way people receive their sports information with the 24-hour network ESPN and its sister stations, Michael Bayle, VP and general manager of ESPN mobile, seeks to change it all over again.  In a keynote address at the MediaPost’s Mobile Insider Summit in Key Largo, Florida, Bayle detailed how it now considers mobile the “first screen,” as almost 150,000 people access its mobile offerings at any given time.  According to Bayle, mobile is the most effective way to reach an audience “from an international standpoint.”

ESPN’s mobile audience across its mobile properties has surpassed 20 million users, with many spending 45% more time on mobile content in 2011 than years past.  ESPN Mobile is now the company’s 4th largest network.  As ESPN’s subscriber fees with cable companies continue to increase yearly (fees passed on to the consumer), more and more people are turning to their mobile apps to receive their sports news, scores, and updates.  ESPN even has several commercials devoted to their mobile apps, nudging customers away from the computer screen and to their iPads and mobile devices.

From “ESPN’s mobile strategy is seen in terms of ‘bridges’, connecting users to its broader digital offerings, TV and mobile commerce, with the goal in terms of TV being to capitalise on two-screen viewing and the gradual shift toward interactive television.  ESPN also wants to leverage mobile to encourage television viewing through news updates and alerts about live events that might prompt people to reach for the remote.”

ESPN’s shift to mobile has been written about extensively in Luke Wroblewski’s book Mobile First.  ESPN realized early on that most of their viewers wanted scores—in real-time.  The best way to reach these users was through an updated interface via their mobile devices.  So while they may watch the game on their flat screen televisions, they aren’t paying attention to the scores scrolling on the bottom of the screen.  The way to keep them from changing the channel is to provide an interactive interface on their cell phones, where they can receive constantly updated scores, whether at home or on the go.  Basically, ESPN wants you to reach for your smartphone instead of your laptop computer.

As time goes on, Wroblewski expects that people will become more and more dependent on their smartphones for all of their daily needs.  ESPN has figured this out, by giving sports fans exactly what they want on their phones and tablets—scores and the top headlines of the day.  They’ll go to their computers for long-form articles and features.  There are also several ESPN apps available in the iTunes and Android markets.  Need to make a quick change in your fantasy football lineup but aren’t near a computer?  There’s an app for that.  The most downloaded app, Scorecenter, delivers your personalized favorite teams along with relevant news, scores, and stats.  There’s no searching or navigation involved.  It’s right there at your fingertips.  With the WatchESPN app, you can watch live video on your mobile devices (until you get home to watch it on the big screen).

Senior Director of Product Development at ESPN Mobile Jay Lee asks, “What can we do with the mobile device to provide complimentary access or complementary data to support that viewing experience?”  Other companies would be wise to emulate the moves of the worldwide leader moving forward.


  1. In the context of distributing content, Bayle and ESPN do not differentiate smartphones from other types of mobile devices — including laptops. Neither should we.