Comcast Sportsnet Digital Strategy Remains Elusive

A few weeks back I read a Washington Times article ( about CSN Mid-Atlantic ramping up its digital presence with web exclusive content, more video, and adding digital correspondents, but mentions the lack of central office support from Comcast. It prompted me to do an unscientific look around the Comcast RSN digital properties to see if they were making a coherent push online across the board, or if the Times reports was true and it’s a decentralized effort.

It appears somewhat decentralized, though many are learning lessons from other markets to keep up with the competition. The disparity from region to region is amazing. First, Mid-Atlantic deserves credit because they have put together a solid digital plan and are executing well. The site has a clean design that is easy to navigate and enjoyable to view – something most of the Comcast RSN websites do share. However, Mid-Atlantic has tremendous content depth and takes advantage of new media features. The site offers an extensive lineup of bloggers, podcasts covering all the major teams in the area, extensive video on the home page and each of the team pages (though I had trouble with the video player), social network tie-ins, message boards, and lots of editorial about all the teams in the area. Mid-Atlantic also offers Fantasy Games and a fan membership club. On the surface, they are taking advantage of what digital can do to complement a linear cable network.

My expectations now high, I checked out Chicago, New England, Northwest, and Bay Area. New England and Bay Area offer many of the same features as Mid-Atlantic. Execution and design varies region to region, but from a high-level they are similar offerings. Chicago surprisingly lacked any fan integration or social networking options. It’s video centric and has a solid lineup of bloggers, but I didn’t get the same perception of content depth that Mid-Atlantic has. It also lacks current athletes, something New England and Mid-Atlantic use successfully – nothing drives traffic like a high-profile name.

At the bottom of the barrel, Northwest is barely a web presence. It offers no content that I can’t find on another site. The URL is basically a basic information site with ads plastered around – no blogs, no video, no editorial, no sign of a digital staff.

I am particularly curious how Chicago plays out, since the 800-pound gorilla entered the room recently when ESPN launched The implicit marketing push and the big names it can pluck from the mothership can move the needle in the market, something Comcast needs to be concerned with – and every RSN in a major market must prepare for because I doubt ESPN stops with Chicago. The ESPN site lacks depth right now. It’s front is unique, and it leverages the local ESPN radio affiliate for local talent to write editorial content and create multimedia features, then it pulls in Chicago relevant content from to fill the site out. However, the link to team pages directs you to the page. It makes sense, but lacks that local authenticity.

Overall, its surprising that each Comcast market is not more closely modeled both functionally and aesthetically, especially use the audience is not the same. However, most of the big markets are doing a solid job, likely thanks to competitive forces since each market has multiple RSN’s. One thing all the sites need to work on is the video player in preparation for local streaming agreements with NBA and MLB teams. The players seem geared for short-form video, not a full screen dedicated player that works for streaming. Another key is compelling content. I think prominent newspaper writers have a place on RSN websites, as do current and former athletes with a strong perspective. Both can bring an audience.


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