Why isn’t there an ESPN Philadelphia?


Every Monday morning, Section 215’s Akiem Bailum gives an in-depth and unfiltered look at all of the latest sports news in The Monday Morning Realist. You can follow Akiem on Twitter @AkiemBailum.

Nov 10, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; ESPN Monday Night Football sideline reporter Lisa Salters (right) interviews Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez (3) after the game against the Carolina Panthers at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For a media market that is in the top-10, ESPN sure seemingly looks at Philadelphia as if it is just some small, Podunk town in the middle of Kansas instead of the metropolis we know it is that covers parts of three states.

The Philly metro area is home to a baseball team (Phillies), an NFL team (Eagles), an NBA team (76ers), an NHL team (Flyers), an Arena League team (Soul), an MLS team (Union) not to mention a multitude of collegiate athletic programs.

All you need to know about how robust the Philadelphia sports scene is is this—it is one of only two cities in the United States that has a 24-hour live an local sports talk radio station. That of course is WIP which four years ago moved from 610 AM to 94.1 FM displacing heritage rock station WYSP.

The other is, of course, WFAN 66/101.9 in New York. Ironically, WFAN and WIP are owned by the same company—CBS.

With so much going on in Philly sports and with national attention always being placed on the Eagles by Bristol (particularly in the form of former Eagle Ron Jaworski), why doesn’t ESPN have a separate website for sports fans in the Delaware Valley?

It is a perplexing question. In a perfect world, ESPN would have an “ESPN Seattle,” an “ESPN Philly,” an “ESPN Washington, D.C.,” an “ESPN Houston,” and an “ESPN Bay Area.”

But as it stands right now, the four-letter network only has five city-regional websites.

It has an “ESPN New York,” an “ESPN LA,” an “ESPN Chicago,” an “ESPN Dallas,” and an “ESPN Boston.”

Looking at that list, I have a feeling what you’re probably thinking. It is easy *and sensible” at this point to believe that of course ESPN would have a New York regional website along with a Boston regional website because since ESPN’s headquarters is virtually equidistant between New York City and Boston that those two cities are all ESPN knows.

They have showed some indications at times that those are the only two cities they know, but that’s another column for another occasion.

But when ESPN launched their regional websites, they already had a little something in place that made these launches easier—local radio stations.

When the websites were launched, ESPN owned five sports networks. There are hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of sports talk stations that air ESPN programming, but they are owned by another company that is not ESPN.

ESPN only (at one point in time) owned five radio stations across the country. Those are WEPN 1050 in New York, KSPN 710 in Los Angeles, WMVP AM 1000 in Chicago, KESN 103.3 in Dallas, and ESPN 1250 in Pittsburgh.

ESPN’s owned and operated New York station later became 98.7 FM beginning in 2012. It was at one point in time a heritage R&B station called 98.7 Kiss FM.

The Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas operations have been stable ever since the initial round of ESPN local/regional networks was announced.

And in the case of ESPN Boston, Bristol does not directly own its affiliate up there—WEEI 93.7 as Entercom does. But, recently, when WEEI once again assumed its position as Beantown’s ESPN station, part of the agreement allowed for a unique partnership including for WEEI 850 AM to be featured prominently on the website.

WEEI 850 is prominently featured on the ESPN Boston website and ESPN allows for 850 to be the virtual radio home for the ESPN Boston platform.

So, in the case of an ESPN Philadelphia, why has Bristol not directly invested in something like that the way it has its New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, and Boston platforms. Who knows?

The ESPN affiliate for Philly is WPEN-FM 97.5 The Fanatic. It is a Greater Media owned and operated station which also is the flagship station for Sixers hoops and Flyers hockey. WPEN-AM which was on 950 once aired ESPN on a 24-7 basis before it too was sold off.

Also, for the purposes of this week’s Realist, nothing came up when I typed in the domains “espnphiladelphia.com” or “espnphilly.com” into my web browser.

One would think as much as ESPN loves to gush itself all over Tim Tebow that an ESPN Philadelphia website would have been created the moment he signed with the Eagles. This is the same sports media juggernaut that once created a “Heat Index” website that was all Miami Heat, all the time when LeBron James arrived in South Beach.

If ESPN can hype that up, why not give Philly some love?

The area has some of the best sports fans in the country. The Eagles are a team of national interest once again thanks to Tebow as well as because of head coach Chip Kelly. Everyone wants to know in what direction the Phillies will go in now that virtually all of its links to the 2008 World Series winning team (sans Ryan Howard) are gone.

Plus, there’s WPVI-TV 6ABC. If ESPN had a Philly-centric website, it could drive even more viewers to WPVI and vice versa since it is an ABC-affiliated station that it owned and operated by ABC. ESPN’s New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago stations are also O&Os and their respective local ESPN websites are featured prominently on those websites.

But, it appears one of the big reasons why ESPN puts local money into some cities and not others all revolves around radio. New York, LA, Chicago, and Dallas all have owned and operated ESPN stations not to mention teams ESPN loves to cover (Yankees, Lakers, Cowboys, etc.). Maybe there would already be one if ESPN owned the Fanatic instead of Greater Media.

And in the case of Boston, ESPN could not pass up the opportunity to link up again with the WEEI Network—a New England sports radio superstation whose flagship in Boston has been referred to as the “best sports radio station in the country.” In what some believe to be the best sports city in the country.

That is potentially a big reason why ESPN has not put in any additional funds into Philly sports coverage, but some of the groundwork is there thanks to WPVI, plus it and the Fanatic partner on a few projects already.

Not to mention—who agrees that CSN Philly/NBC 10 could use some competition?

If I were to go into detail as to what could be on an ESPN Philadelphia website, I’d be talking a 2,000 word column so I will mention this once again—as the home of a team in all five (including MLS) major leagues, an arena league football team, plus a multitude of NCAA-level colleges and universities in Southeast Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware, there is more than enough that can fill an ESPN Philadelphia website. More than enough.

If an ESPN Dallas can work, so can an ESPN Philly.

Only one Realist request—do not think you can allow Stephen A. Smith to run the site just because his resume includes writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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