How Yahoo! and Fox powered past ESPN.com in comScore rankings

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Ken Fuchs, head of Yahoo! Sports. Photo credit: Yahoo!

NEW YORK–Yahoo! Sports and ESPN have long competed for the title of most popular online sports site. But the ground shifted in January.

Not only did Yahoo retain its No. 1 ranking but ESPN.com fell to 3rd place behind FoxSports.com in the monthly comScore rankings. Yahoo Sports had almost 55 million unique visitors last month — compared to 38.6 million for Fox and 38.2 million for ESPN. It was the first time in four years that ESPN was not ranked either No. 1 or No. 2, according to SportsBusiness Daily.

The shift owes “primarily” to ESPN losing traffic from Active.com, noted SBD. And ESPN still led in time spent among sports sites. But something’s up.

Yahoo! executives were at the On Deck Sports and Technology Conference presented by SeatGeek and RSE Ventures Tuesday in Manhattan. So Mike McCarthy of Sports Biz USA asked Brian Marshall and Ken Fuchs of Yahoo! Sports flat out: How does their editorial approach differ from the Worldwide Leader?

Brian Marshall, senior director of product management at Yahoo! SportsESPN does a great job of exploiting its many national TV sports properties, said Marshall, senior director of product management at Yahoo! Sports. His company, on the other hand, focuses more on individual fans.

“Yes, we reach 100 million users globally. But for us we want to focus on each person as an individual fan. We’re not worried about a national broadcast TV gig that we may have. We want to give you the information that’s important to you at the right time as fast as possible,” Marshall said.  “So ESPN does a lot of things great. For us, what we we focus on is each individual user, what are they trying to do on our site today and how do you we give them that great content and those great scores.”

We grabbed Fuchs in the hallway after Marshall’s presentation and asked him the same question.

“I think Brian summed it up well. We reach a massive worldwide audience but we’re more concerned about each individual fan and what we can deliver to them. Our reach is tremendous, but it’s really about the product and content experience we deliver to the fan every day.”

So sports fans have two very different approaches to choose from. As ESPN’s army of on-air talent grows, it’s trying to “embrace debate” by highlighting arguments as well as providing highlights, live game coverage, investigative reporting, etc. Yahoo! counters with more of a just-the-facts approach. But it’s also able to give ESPN and everyone else a run for their money with investigative reporters such as Charles Robinson.

During an interview with Sports Biz USA, rising ESPN star Sage Steele admitted to reading Yahoo.  The reason? She said she gets the scores, stats, game info and analysis she needs from Yahoo!, while she can pretty much predict the opinions of her colleagues at ESPN.

Here’s the full comScore’s January rankings via SportsBusiness Daily:

RANK
SITE
UNIQUES (000)
1
Yahoo Sports
54,964
2
FoxSports.com
38,649
3
ESPN.com
38,296
4
NFL.com
24,269
5
Turner/SI Digital*
20,012
6
Big Lead Sports**
19,616
7
CBSSports.com
15,938
8
USA Today Sports Media Group***
14,980
9
NBCSports.com
14,707
10
SBNation.com
11,169

NOTES: * = Sites include NBA.com, SI.com, NASCAR.com, PGATour.com, PGA.com, NCAA.com and WNBA.com.. ** = Sites include The Big Lead, HoopsHype.com, HoopsWorld.com, KFFL.com, The Huddle, BaseballHQ.com and other sites within Fantasy Sports Ventures Inc. *** = Sites include 81 local Gannett newspaper sites, 23 Gannett-owned broadcast TV station sites, HighSchoolSports.net and the BNQT Media Group, which includes MMAjunkie.com.

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