Fox Sports making a game of it

Partner MSN's coverage of racing, Super Bowl helps beat ESPN in Feb.

The race for the top online sports destination is closer than ever as Fox Sports on MSN in February finished with more unique visitors in a month than ESPN for the first time, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.

For February, a traditionally slow sports month, ESPN had about 13.2 million unique visitors, more than 3 million fewer than in January. Fox Sports, which has had a partnership with MSN since 2004, saw an increase of about 13,000 compared with January to finish with 15.2 million visitors for the month. In third place, Yahoo! Sports had more than 1 million fewer visitors month-over-month.

ESPN declined comment on the numbers but pointed out that the site "is averaging ahead of the other sites for the last 12-month and six-month cycle" and that users also consume its content through iTunes and mobile devices.

According to comScore Media Metrix, ESPN finished ahead of Fox Sports for February. By its calculations, ESPN had 15.2 million unique visitors last month, edging Fox's 14.7 million.

"ESPN.com attracts a more dedicated user than you'll find anywhere else," a company spokesman said.

For Fox, such events as Feb. 4's Super Bowl, the Fox-broadcasted Daytona 500 on Feb. 17 and other NASCAR races drove traffic to its site last month, said Brian Grey, senior vp at FoxSports.com. Even though the Super Bowl was telecast on CBS, users still looked to Fox for analysis and information before and after the game, he said.

"People think about Fox for the NFL and NASCAR because of our role as a broadcaster," Grey said. "It builds a lot of brand equity and because of that, Fox is the place that people are going to think to go to first."

Nielsen//NetRatings is owned by the Nielsen Co., parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.
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