ESPN to launch L.A. website December 21

NEW YORK Tue Dec 1, 2009 5:41pm EST

ESPN and ABC Sports President George Bodenheimer speaks at the Reuters Global Media Summit in New York, December 1, 2009. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

ESPN and ABC Sports President George Bodenheimer speaks at the Reuters Global Media Summit in New York, December 1, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sports media company ESPN will roll out a local website for Los Angeles on December 21, with sites for New York and other cities to follow, as it looks to boost revenue from regional advertising sales, its top executive said on Tuesday.

Speaking at the Reuters Global Media Summit in New York, ESPN and ABC Sports President George Bodenheimer said he envisions bringing online 20 or more local sites that target fans with sports news specific to area teams and athletes.

ESPN, a division of Walt Disney Co, has local sites for Chicago, Boston and Dallas. Bodenheimer said Pittsburgh would be another natural fit because ESPN owns a radio station there.

"Over time, I expect those (local sites) to be significant profit drivers for our company," Bodenheimer said.

He said advertisers have reacted well to the local websites and ad sales are ahead of ESPN's internal expectations. Overall, he feels the worst is over in the ad market.

ESPN's Chicago site saw 1.15 million unique visitors in October, up 20 percent from September. In October, 2.3 million unique visitors spent 10.4 million total minutes at the three current local websites.

ESPN's launch of its Los Angeles website will lead into its Christmas Day basketball game doubleheader, which kicks off with a broadcast of a Los Angeles Lakers game.

"We'll follow that with New York. We don't have a date yet, but it will be before the baseball season, which is the first week of April," Bodenheimer said.

ESPN also will roll out the local websites in some of the more than 600 markets where it has radio affiliates, he said.

"Just because we don't have a local radio sales force is not going to be an inhibitor. We're just going to have to look at a different model," Bodenheimer said.

After initially saying he could see 20 such local websites for ESPN, Bodenheimer later agreed the number could grow to every city with major pro and college sports teams, although no plans have been set beyond Los Angeles and New York.

"There's a lot of opportunity here," he said. "I would rule nothing out. Every town in America considers itself a sports town."

Bodenheimer reiterated that ESPN and ABC plan to bid for U.S. broadcast rights to the 2014 and 2016 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, respectively.

General Electric Co's NBC paid $2.2 billion for the U.S. broadcast rights to the 2010 and 2012 Games, up from $1.5 billion for the previous four-year period.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Paul Thomasch, Tim Dobbyn and Richard Chang)

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