Final Reflections

This is sadly my last blog post of the semester, so it is a good opportunity to look back. Over the past eight weeks I have looked at factors such as web design, infographics, web features, unity, multimedia, and social media. I have focused on two main websites, ESPN.com and SI.com. Now, I will compare the two and offer suggestions for improvement.

Comparison 

While I love the writers for Sports Illustrated and find their analysis to be more worthwhile, I am not grading these websites based on content. Therefore, I think ESPN.com is a much better website than SI.com. ESPN better utilizes multimedia content, linking video to all of their main articles. ESPN has more fun interactive features, like games, surveys, fantasy sports, and other challenges. ESPN’s fan community seems to be larger, and all of their articles have many more comments than Sports Illustrated. I think that Sports Illustrated’s website is reflective of the company as a whole, which tends to be more conservative than ESPN.

Suggestions for Improvement

That does not mean that I think ESPN.com is a perfect website. There are many ways I think that ESPN could improve the quality of the site. To start, the content on the site needs to become broader. The webpage seems entirely too New York or Boston focused. These cities already have their own ESPN pages, but it still seems like the Yankees, Red Sox, or Tim Tebow are always the cover story. It is frustrating when I go onto the site and the first thing I see is another big picture of the Jets quarterbacks, and I almost always leave.

Sports Illustrated could improve the website in many ways. As I mentioned earlier, the site is too conservative. Almost none of their stories feature video, and when they do it is simply a reporter talking over still pictures. I know that they do not have the broadcast rights to sports like ESPN does, but it seems like they could be more creative in coming up with ways to match ESPN. In general, the site is just not as fun as ESPN, with little to no games or funny articles. For this reason, I find myself checking ESPN.com first when I go online, despite the fact that I like the writers for SI.com more.

It Was 20 Years Ago Today…

This past week was the twentieth anniversary of Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series between the Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates, considered by many to be one of the most exciting moments in sports history. With the series tied at 3 games each, the winner of Game 7 would advance to the World Series. The Pirates led the deciding game 2-0 going into the bottom of the ninth inning. The Braves scored one run, but still trailed 2-1 with two outs and the bases loaded. Little-used pitch hitter Francisco Cabrera, who had only batted ten times all year after being called up from the Minor Leagues, singled to left field. One run scored easily to tie, and Braves first baseman Sid Bream, who was one of the slowest runners in baseball, slid in ahead of the throw to send the Braves to the World Series. The combination of Cabrera’s lack of at bats and Bream’s lack of speed made the moment both stunning and exciting, and it is still constantly ranked one of the best moments in baseball history.

To commemorate the twentieth anniversary, ESPN came out with a feature they called “A Moment in Time.”  This feature was really well done, and a combination of reporting and web design made it very interesting to read.

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The feature starts with an introductory page setting the scene. It almost appears to be more of a game then a report, especially since there is a large “start” button. This format added to my excitement and curiosity of what was to come.

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After clicking start, the reader sees a big picture of the Braves mobbing Bream at the plate to celebrate their National League championship. It is a famous image for any Braves fan. Some of the players and umpires have symbols next to them. When you hover your mouse over these people, the rest of the page dims while that player brightens, allowing you to really focus on them. In addition, a short quote offers a brief glimpse into what they were thinking at that moment.

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The reader can also click on these people, bringing up a larger reflection. In another page, a story tells about some background information, their involvement in the play, and what they were thinking as Bream was called safe. The people you can read about include many different Braves players, two Pirates players, and the home plate ump. Unfortunately, one player who was not included was Cabrera, who actually recorded the winning hit. It seems that in the years since that play, Bream gets all the credit, while it was actually Cabrera’s hit that sent the Braves to the World Series. It would have been interesting to read his recollections of the night. Still, I really enjoyed hearing from some of the other players, especially some of the losing Pirates.

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In conclusion, “A Moment In Time: Bream’s Electric Slide” was a really well put together feature, combining interesting reflections by the people involved and a good design and layout. I hope that this is just the first of many features like this, and that ESPN continues to make these for the anniversaries of famous plays like “The Catch,” Michael Jordan’s last shot, and Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, among others.

It Pays to be IN

It has happened to all of us at some point. We are reading an article we really enjoy, hoping to gain new valuable information, when it abruptly ends. Instead of getting to finish the article, we are greeted by a message telling us we need to pay to continue. It is infuriating.

ESPN.com is no exception. Their Insider section, which costs $7.95 a month or $3.33 a month for a year’s subscription, houses some of their best analysis and scoops. The articles blocked by insider access usually relate to baseball prospects and college recruits, two topics that greatly interest me. The articles can range from ranking baseball prospects and organizations, discussing teams’s futures after their season ends, NFL mock drafts, and predicting where top college football and basketball recruits will attend school.

I am not sure why these topics are the ones ESPN chooses to protect behind a paywall, but I would guess it is because the subject matter is one that relate more to guesswork then actual news. These are all just predictions by “experts,” but there is no way to know if they are correct for several years. As a result, these stories only interest certain types of sports fans, and ESPN has determined that these fans will be willing to pay extra for more analysis.

One of my favorite annual features on Insider is Keith Law’s ranking of the top baseball organizations, in terms of future prospects. I really enjoy this report because it tells me which players I should be excited to see in the coming years. I know a lot about the current Reds, but this feature lets me know about future players, and when and how they can be expected to contribute. It is fun to look back on past years and see where he was right, and which prospects he missed on. It was also encouraging, during the mid to late 2000′s when the Reds were one of the worst teams in baseball, to see how highly their prospects were ranked, and now that they have all reached the Major Leagues, I feel like I have followed them forever.

Despite the advantages having an insider account provides, I currently do not own one. In high school, I had a subscription to ESPN the Magazine, which allowed me to read Insider articles for free. However, I do not feel like an account provides enough to justify paying for it. I mostly use ESPN for breaking news and scores. Sometimes I am tempted to buy an account when I read a headline that piques my curiosity, but those articles are actually few and far between. Still, it is clear that ESPN does provide an option for fans who wish to go above and beyond basic sports journalism.

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Get Interactive!

A key to attracting readers and keeping them interested is to have interactive features on a web page. Comment sections, infographics, surveys, maps, and search toolbars are all important aspects of a website. ESPN.com beats SI.com in terms of interactive elements, which is a major reason I like the website more. SI.com has definitely increased their interactivity recently, however, which could be an attempt to keep pace with ESPN.

Comments

At the end of each article on ESPN.com, readers can make comments. This is a simple feature, but an important one. Most of these comments are grammatically incorrect attempts to start fights, but occasionally there will be thoughtful conversations. The conversations are live, and constantly update. This can be annoying, because sometimes you will be reading through comments and the page will automatically scroll up to show the newest comment. Readers can also respond to another comment to start conversations, but unfortunately this seldom does anything but start a fight. For a long time, SI.com resisted this feature, but it just recently added a comment section. Usually SI.com articles have much less comments though, but that may be just because it is new and readers are not used to it.

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Favorites

A feature that I appreciate on both websites is the ability to store your favorite teams. SI.com displays these teams on the top of the page. By clicking on the team name you can access the latest scores, and a collection of news and opinion articles on that team from around the internet. A Twitter box will also display the newest tweets about the team from local writers. This is a great way to personalize SI.com individually, and a good page to go to to find information about your team. Readers can select up to six teams, from all professional sports or college football or basketball.

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ESPN.com also allows you to personalize the webpage with your favorite teams or players. You can select up to three teams for each sport (but anyone who picks more than one isn’t a true fan!), as well as an unlimited amount of players. When you select a team, that team will appear in the drop-down menu for the sport, allowing you to go straight to the team page. In addition, your favorite team will be highlighted on the standings, scoreboard, and schedule. You can also pick favorite players, and their names will be highlighted in the statistics section.

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Polls

Although not as important as political polls, a fun part of being a sports fan is debating issues. As such, a cool feature on ESPN.com is SportsNation, which is affiliated with the TV show by the same name. Readers can participate in polls in a variety of areas, ranging from the MLB playoffs to the NFL week five. After voting, readers can see a map of the United States to see which parts of the country voted certain ways. This feature does not add much analysis, but it is a fun way to participate nonetheless.

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Conclusion

Overall, ESPN.com does a much better job with interactive elements that SI.com does. This can have an impact on readership. When I hear about breaking news, I usually go to ESPN.com first because I like to see what other fans have to say, not just writers. Even though the comment sections usually just cause fights, I still like to read through to see if anyone says anything interesting that I agree with, or if I can chime in to disagree. I understand why SI.com added this feature, and it will be interesting to see if this affects readership levels.

A Tale of Two Sites

Over the past month, I have been comparing ESPN.com and SI.com in a variety of areas, including content, multimedia, and social media. However, today I turn to the topic of web design and page layout, areas in which the two sites are very similar. In fact, just taking a look at the front page of each website, it would be easy to mix them up if it was not for the fact that each had a large page title.

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At the top of both pages sit the scores from the day’s action. Both websites know that one of the most important reasons people check the internet constantly is to find the up-to-the-minute scores, and both pages fittingly put it at the top, above the main story. Both pages allow you to customize the scoreboard so that your favorite team will stand out, ESPN by highlighting that game in yellow and SI by writing the team name in red. Sports Illustrated goes a step farther by allowing the viewer to filter the scoreboard so that only games involving their teams show up, regardless of sport.

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Below the scores, both sites have links for each sport. ESPN allows you to rank your favorite sports and displays them in that order, while Sports Illustrated’s order is constant. Clicking on a sport will take you to that sport’s main page, where you can read top stories, analysis, and check up-to-date standings and statistics. Both websites also feature drop-down menus, where you can go directly to the scoreboard, standings, statistics, or team menus. ESPN’s drop down menu also features top stories, so you can check what is happening in each league without even leaving the front page. In addition to sports, there are also links to certain sections of the the website, like ESPN fantasy games and Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue, in this toolbar.

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Finally, we get to the main stories, which are located in the middle of the page. Again, both websites are similar in that they rotate over a variety of stories from different sports. ESPN usually rotates through more stories, and refers readers to any event being broadcast on one of their networks, while Sports Illustrated usually sticks with fewer, larger stories. On the right side of the page, both sites display headlines linking to articles with the most important news of the day. The sports-specific pages all use a very similar format as the main page, with a scoreboard above the main article, with headlines on the right side of the page.

The only main difference between the websites is that each have slightly different sections in addition to the major sports. For example, ESPN.com has a section titled “playbook,” with humor articles and more off-beat stories. SI.com, meanwhile, has a section called “Extra Mustard,” which links pop culture with sports.

ESPN.com also utilizes multimedia better than Si.com. ESPN’s feature stories usually involve video in the story itself, while SI.com has one section where viewers can find all videos. Sports Illustrated, on the other hands, puts more emphasis on their writers, allowing readers to search for articles by a certain writer on the front page.

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You can tell by the website that ESPN.com is affiliated with the cable network. The top of the page tells viewers what is currently airing on each of their stations, and a link connects viewers to a TV guide of all the ESPN channels. SI.com, meanwhile, shows an image of that week’s magazine cover, and allows subscribers to read magazine articles online.

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It would be hard to judge between ESPN.com and SI.com, as both are very similar. This must be a style that works, as every time one changes formats the other quickly follows. I find this format to be effective, and don’t mind that they are similar, as I know where to look whenever I go online.

To Tweet or Not to Tweet

Social Media is a quickly emerging force in sports journalism. In this age of information, fans want to know statistics and expert’s opinions as soon as something happens. Therefore, it is important that credible sites release news as soon as possible.

Twitter

With over five million followers, ESPN is the clear king of Twitter in the sports industry. However, the numbers go beyond that. ESPN’s official twitter account, @espn, rarely tweets any actual news or analysis, instead tweeting statements like “Overtimes? Check A Hail Mary? Check Crazy kick returns? Check Today’s early games were nuts,” or “Football, football, football, football. Also, football.” For breaking news or expert opinions, it is better to follow a show or reporter specific to that sport. One account that I particularly like is ESPN Stats and Info, which tweets interesting and strange statistics. ESPN usually retweets particularly interesting and newsworthy information from its reporters, but if you want an in-depth look at a sport is is generally better to follow that reporter. ESPN is constantly referring to Twitter on air and online, and when a reporter appears on the network his Twitter profile appears below his name. In addition, the network will encourage a hashtag for a game it is broadcasting. For example, during the Clemson- Florida State game Saturday, #ClemonFSU was displayed in the corner of the screen, and people could discuss the game on twitter by using that hashtag. These two practices allow the company to connect the on-air programming with its social media component.

Sports Illustrated (@SInow) lags behind ESPN when it comes to Twitter, with “only” 406,000 followers. Like ESPN, they tweet mostly broad statements, like “Sunday = NFL Football. Who are you watching today?” However, they do occasionally tweet newsworthy information, such as injuries or big plays. They also tweet every week when a new issue is released on newsstands, and will link to some articles. I do not follow Sports Illustrated, as I do not find the tweets necessary. Instead, I follow writers I enjoy, such as Stewart MandelAndy Staples, and Peter King. These writers merge humor, game-time analysis, and links to their articles. In general, however, I find Sports Illustrated’s social media presence to be diminished compared to ESPN’s.

Facebook

Because people usually do not rely on Facebook for breaking news, both ESPN and Sports Illustrated use their accounts for a different purpose. Mainly, they see it as a way to have a “conversation” with their fans. Both sites post open ended questions, allowing fans to comment. For example, last night ESPN posted a picture of Florida State, with the caption “High-scoring offense, big-time athletes and tomahawk chops. Are the Seminoles the scariest team in college football right now?” Over 1,300 people chimed in with their opinions. Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated asked fans which game they were most looking forward to this weekend. Facebook serves a different purpose from Twitter, but both use it for a similar reason.

Conclusion

ESPN and Sports Illustrated have both taken advantage of social media to further expand the game experience. Both use Twitter to lightly promote sports, while relying on their reporter’s accounts to actually break news. Both use Facebook to have “conversations” about sports with thousands of people. I think that ESPN does a better job with their social media presence, an opinion backed up by the fact that they have more Twitter followers and Facebook fans. However, I enjoy both, and find myself frequently checking Twitter for up-to-date sports news and opinions.

Locked Out, but not Forgotten

In a weekend of baseball pennant races, top five upsets in college football, and NFL action, it was easy to overlook the major news from the National Hockey League. At midnight Sunday morning, the NHL owners officially locked the players out over a failure to agree to a new collective bargaining agreement. This marks the fourth lockout in NHL history, and the second in eight years.

ESPN does not cover the NHL to the same extent as it covers other professional and collegiate sports, due to the fact that the network does not hold the broadcast rights to the sport. However, the company still employs a small group of hockey experts, who each contributed to the website’s coverage of the lockout.  Continue reading