The New ESPN.com: Is it All a fantasy?

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The New ESPN.com: Is it All a fantasy?

Have you seen the new ESPN.com yet? Simplified. Customizable scoring across the top...Larger content area for lead stories and video...Easier and clearly visible login...And the ability to name specific teams, columnists, and players in “myESPN.”

ESPN's redesign simplifies and personalizes

With this update, ESPN is trying to make it easier for visitors to get to what they need, want, and crave from their sports coverage. I know one of my minor peeves this fantasy season was getting to my actual fantasy league page without clicking on two drop-down menus, a sidebar link, and having to log into the site through one of two log-in boxes in different locations.

But along with their move to simplify and customize the site, I think ESPN is gunning to become more of a tool and direct resource for fantasy sports fans.

Taking a closer look at the redesign, I couldn’t help but notice that the new menu ranks “Fantasy & Games” as its fourth option from the left—after “Sports,” “Columnists,” and “Page 2.” You no longer have to seek out the tiny “Fantasy” button, click it and then click “Fantasy Football” just to get to the fantasy football homepage.

It also makes it easier to get to the specific games you might be trying to locate—ah ha, I found you Gridiron Playoff Challenge. You can also click your “myESPN” tab to be jumped straight to specific fantasy games—even easier to jump to Gridiron Playoff Challenge.

Would it be too much to ask that, once fantasy football season rolls around, “myESPN” could link you straight to your league pages? Would that be too much to ask ESPN?

According to the New York Times, the goal of all of these changes is to get more people to ESPN.com and keep them coming there, and ESPN believes the new personalized, clean and more fantasy-optimized layout will help draw in that audience.

Growing even bigger is the goal, and to do that ESPN needs to reach beyond hard-core sports fans — it already has them — to people whose interest in athletics is more casual, analysts say. A less chaotic Web design is one way ESPN managers are tackling this challenge.

Where will they ever find a large portion of casual sports fans? That’s right, fantasy sports. Office pools will have entire offices of not-so-devoted sports fans tracking squads of NFL players for 17 weeks. Some don’t even watch games. It’s an easy sell as long as the site doesn’t turn them away by being too much or too cluttered.

Of course, they also aren’t forgetting their hardcore base of bad-ass fantasy footballers and sporting diehards. We get search and tracking.

At the same time, ESPN must keep its primary audience satisfied and increase the amount of time these people spend on the site, which could allow the company to charge higher ad rates. To that end, the company has built a more efficient search engine — “Our old one, frankly, was just not very good,” Mr. Skipper said — that is intended to allow heavy users to delve deeply into the site with greater ease.

Expanded user customization also comes into play, with visitors being able to do things like personalize the scores displayed on the home page for the first time, said Rob King, the Web site’s editor in chief. “We’re also working hard to make sure that personalization follows you through the site,” Mr. King said.

With more and more cable and satellite services and sites on the Web offering fantasy football fanatics the ability to track individual players, the “myPlayers” selections could be a nice way to keep fantasy owners on ESPN.com (even if they aren’t playing through ESPN) and encourage fantasy fans to track their rosters for keeper and dynasty leagues during the offseason.

The “myESPN” tracking features, as creepy cool as it sounds, will allow your preferences and player selections to “follow you through the site” so that you get the info that you need each week (or on a daily basis). I think the kind of following I can appreciate — and it doesn’t even involve rolling silently down residential blocks with the headlights off.

I like what you’ve done with the place, ESPN. You’re headed in the right direction by targeting fantasy players as your growing audience. Now, we’re just one more step closer to fantasy football fans ruling the world. First, ESPN. Next, Rhode Island—because who’s really going to stop us?

And remember, there is still that other type of stalking following I can appreciate as long as you appreciate the stylings of A Beautiful Mind from a mind not nearly as ridiculously good-looking.

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