With the growth and widespread consumption of sports through television, ESPN has exploded. It has developed consistent consumer bases of not only its television channel, but also its online news presence and online streaming service. Since the development of the world wide web, companies have adapted to represent themselves on the internet in order to attract new consumers. ESPN was among the many various entertainment companies confronted with this puzzle. ESPN was faced with the problem of displaying its content—news on sports—to a broader audience online. To do this it had to both: make information accessible and user-friendly, and make content visually appealing. On October 12th, 1999, ESPN’s online presence looked like this:
Most prominently featured is ESPN.com‘s logo, in addition to major headlines like “Red Sox Slug Indians; Yankees are next.” Next to the headline is a small image of Sox player Pedro Martinez with the caption: “Pedro Martinez was stellar in relief for the Red Sox.” On the side of the webpage users can find a menu toolbar with sport sections including “MLB,” “NFL,” “College Football,” “NHL,” “Soccer,” “Golf Online,” “Soccernet (UK),” “NBA,” “M College BB,” “Tennis,” “NASCAR” and more. The main homepage also includes several links to more stories related to the newest gossip in sports divided into sections like “Features and Columns,” “Events,” and “Special Sections.” It also presents interactive opportunities for users through alluring links to polls, contests, and fantasy games at the top of the site, just beside the ESPN logo. The webpage, most importantly for its users, displays live scores and links to access live radio/TV and other game highlights. What I find interesting about ESPN’s 1999 webpage is what web designers chose to prioritize for the display of the page. Rather than the links to the live content (which is what viewers of ESPN originally became viewers for), the large logo is presented most prominently. ESPN.com in 1999 is characterized by minimalist graphics and imagery. Though these limited graphics appealed to consumers effectively in 1999, this would change as interactive, media-based flashy web design evolved on the world wide web.
With the takeoff of interactive, social media-centered, and video-based content on the internet, sites like ESPN.com were forced to reimagine and redesign their online presence. Below is a screen grab of ESPN.com‘s webpage on June 30th, 2010:
It is clear that the design of the main site was totally reimagined and revamped. Web designers at ESPN.com upgraded the site to make it much more visually pleasing. Some new features included a simplified logo (though still at the top and center of the page), red background color for the site, a new menu bar at the top of the page (rather than the side like in 1999), and much larger images and and headlines. Lebron James was the star of ESPN.com‘s webpage on June 30th, 2010 and even got his own headline: “Destination Unknown: NBA free agency has started which means the official start of the ‘Summer of Lebron.’ What else are our experts expecting?” What is new about this kind of advertising is that Lebron posed for a shoot with ESPN. In 1999, the featured image was small and included a picture of Pedro Martinez in action, in other words, a photo taken of him during the game. On this page, the photo of Lebron is exciting and is meant to attract viewers. It was definitely an effective way to draw users in to see what the “experts expect” for the future of one of the NBA’s top players.
The top menu bar and accessory links—this time more distinctly categorized—are much more user-friendly. On the side of the main page is a headlines section with various links and at the bottom of the page users can find links to opinion pieces and other news headlines. What the 2010 webpage has that that of 1999 does not is the search bar. In 1999, viewers would have had to navigate the entire site in order to find a specific story if it was not featured on the main page. In 2010, users could skip the elaborate steps and go instead directly to the story, sport, opinion piece, or headline of their choice (as long as it was on the site). The search bar also allowed ESPN to represent itself in new ways that would continue to attract users to its site. For example, if a user wanted to find information about a specific baseball player, but for some reason the information was not present on the site, the search bar would still offer the user suggestions having to do with baseball or another story about that player, one of his teammates, or his team in general. Perhaps the user was not immediately satisfied by the fact that the site lacked the information he originally came for, but nonetheless, the search bar offerings pique his interest.
Features like the search bar, and other self-advertising techniques, together with improved graphics and image quality, characterize ESPN.com‘s transformation from 1999 to 2010. Graphics, imagery, and added color made the user want to use and browse the site. The search bar, the menu bar, and highly accessible links made the user more able to use the site.