ESPN Prepares To Launch Sports Information Site
So, it's set to launch ESPNDB.com (the DB stands for database) -- a site it hopes will serve as a sports encyclopedia-archive- statistical compendium. On one level, the goal is simply an ESPN-opedia -- although the content would be thoroughly fact-checked and would come from professionals. (Like Wikipedia, however, there will be some user-generated aspects.)
ESPNDB will debut sometime in the next few days in what is being termed a "pre-beta" stage. The venture has been in development for more than a year, and its operation falls under ESPN's digital media group.
The rise of a two-click solution for finding sports information online -- via a search on Google and then a click-through to Wikipedia -- cannot be understated as an impetus for ESPNDB.
"It was a significant factor," says Jim Noel, the vice president who oversees ESPNDB. "Wikipedia has experienced tremendous growth over the last five years ... and we believe that we can offer a better, more definitive, more credible resource for finding facts and figures and information than anybody else."
While ESPNDB's number of pages might someday be uncountable, initially it will focus simply on the coming NFL Draft. Still, even with that somewhat limited scope, there will be more than 500 pages, including profiles of 400 potential draftees.
While ESPNDB has two editorial staffers of its own, some of its content will come from ESPN's Stats & Information group. That unit is constantly generating a deluge of profiles, statistical packages and other data for multiple ESPN platforms. But much of its output ends up on the "cutting-room-floor," which could eventually be parked on ESPNDB.
After the draft, ESPNDB plans to build a similar reference hub for the NBA Finals in June. ESPNDB may be able to gain a leg up on Wikipedia and other reference sites with video it can offer culled from ESPN's vast library.
For the NFL Draft section, a profile of Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford -- who is expected to be a top pick -- is likely to include some video of him in action, as well as an audio link.
There is no firm timetable for an official ESPNDB.com debut. The initial NFL Draft rollout will have an area where visitors can email comments to the editors.
ESPNDB will be free and ad-supported. Ad opportunities include what it is calling "clickable video." Essentially, clicking on a link attached to a video would prompt a sidebar to appear, where the top half would be information about a player such as Stafford and the bottom would be an ad. (ESPNDB will be integrated with ESPN.com at multiple touchpoints.)
With NFL fans taking an increasing interest in the draft and hungry to learn about players their teams may pick on April 25 or 26, ESPNDB could serve as an information hub that dovetails with ESPN's on-air coverage. Pre-draft, hosts of ESPN shows such as "NFL Live" or "SportsCenter" could direct viewers to the site for profiles and statistics.
ESPNDB's Noel said there are plans for the site to receive on-air promotion, but they are still being flushed out. "Covering the draft is a big commitment by ESPN as a whole," he said. "We think we can play a role in that."
Plans call for ESPNDB.com to have a robust mobile component. Over the next week, fans can sign up to receive alerts during the draft as soon as a favorite team makes a pick -- with corresponding information about the player.
Noel said plans call for ESPNDB to be built gradually, starting with the stand-alone compendiums for the likes of the draft and NBA Finals. All the while, the team will experiment with functionality.
A year ago, Sports Illustrated made a move into the space ESPNDB is entering with its "SI Vault." That site offers search capabilities for thousands of stories, covers and photos from the pages of the magazine. It is updated daily and uses the SI archives to provide insight into the present. So, a 2002 issue with John Madden on the cover highlighted the site Thursday in the wake of the analyst announcing his retirement.
ESPNDB plans to offer some sort of user-generated aspect a la Wikipedia, where fans can weigh in -- although how that will play out is still under consideration. Decisions must be made about what portions of the site will be "locked," where professionally developed content cannot be altered by visitors.
Noel said one goal is to develop a sort of checks and balances system where information added or supplemented by consumers is authenticated. "We're working on a system with a better and more credible tool for creating user-generated content than exists elsewhere on the Web," he said.
In the meantime, Noel hopes that ESPNDB.com will play another role for information-thirsty fans. "Our ambition is to settle every barroom bet in the world," he said.