ESPN still leads league in sports

Fantasy baseball, NFL draft help drive traffic during April

NEW YORK -- Despite a high-profile gaffe involving its newly free fantasy baseball offering, ESPN remained the most-visited sports destination in April, according to Nielsen//NetRatings, with the NFL Draft as the biggest driver of traffic to the site last month.
In April, the Walt Disney Co.'s sports portal received 16.1 million unique visitors, NetRatings said. Yahoo Inc.'s sports site was second with 14.7 million uniques, and Fox Sports on MSN and were next with 12.8 million and 12.4 million visitors, respectively.
ESPN's fantasy baseball league, offered for free this season for the first time, saw an eightfold increase in players compared with 2006. The season, however, started on a down note as a system error, which ESPN acknowledged in an open letter to fantasy users April 6, disrupted live scoring and transactions and caused the portal to reset all teams to their opening-day rosters on April 11, 10 days after the season began. This canceled all trades and free-agent pickups for the period, and ESPN was forced to go back and score the league with rosters that didn't reflect their managers' transactions.

"Obviously, there was a lot of disappointment," said John Kosner, senior vp and GM of new media at ESPN. "That was trust we'll have to earn back."

To help with the process, the portal refunded money for fantasy users who pay for the premium service and offered other players free access to its paid Insider section for the remainder of the baseball season and premium fantasy football in the fall. Kosner declined to reveal the site's specific number of fantasy users but said that ESPN did not lose a significant amount of players because of the glitch.

Even amid the start of the baseball season, the NFL Draft, which took place April 28-29, was the biggest story for ESPN.

"We did our best job ever with the NFL Draft," Kosner said. "We had the advantage of terrific TV coverage."

ESPN and ESPN2 broadcast 18 hours of coverage with more than 20 hosts, analysts and reporters pitching in. This helped to drive traffic to the network's Web site, which featured mock drafts, analysis and in-depth coverage.

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