Recently, Mashable reported that “The worldwide leader in sports” is opening up its collegiate arm, ESPNU.com, to user-generated videos. The service, known as Campus Connection, will allow students, faculty and fans of all colleges and universities to supply the videos, including play-by-play analysis, sideline reporting and even televised events. Much like NASCAR.com, where fans have transfered their enthusiasm for a niche (if it’s possible to call millions of die-hard fans a “niche”) sport into a thriving photo and video-sharing community, ESPNU wants to put the fans in the proverbial driver’s seat.
While this sounds intriguing and may cause a stir on campus, I wonder, can this really bridge the gap in national coverage between the perennial powerhouses and the “What division are they in” schools?
While it may be a start, it’s unlikely that smaller schools will reap the same long term benefits as the household names. Initially, this should increase the support from individual schools by making the games more of an event (“Let’s post that touchdown pass video on ESPNU!”), but it won’t sustain on its own. ESPNU needs to make a concerted effort to highlight videos from all schools, with no bias toward the bigger brand-name schools. If they don’t ensure that there’s fair representation, students and alumni from other schools will stop participating and the experiment will fail. If they’re not careful, ESPNU could easily cave to supply and demand, highlighting content they think viewers want to see instead of promoting the community and its members, which is exactly what drives a thriving social network like NASCAR’s.
With more and more people joining some form of social network each day, ad revenue is pouring into social media. E-Marketer estimates that social network advertising will nearly quadruple in the next 4 years. With such huge potential for a collection of niche online communities (i.e., for smaller schools and for individual sports), ESPNU has the ability to harness all of that growth potential.
If they’re going to do it right, ESPNU should adhere to the 3 triggers of word of mouth by keeping the focus on the online community and its members instead of covering the same old headline-grabbers and stories from the ESPN.com homepage.