While ESPN’s facing plenty of issues, from subscriber losses to ratings drops to layoffs, their fantasy products have all seen growth this year. In fact, 14 out of 15 have hit all-time highs. At Sports Business Journal, John Ourand writes that this appears primarily due to a shift from different fantasy apps for each sport to one all-encompassing app:
Just two years ago, it appeared that ESPN’s fantasy business had run its course. Its NFL game still produced massive numbers, but ESPN was finding it difficult to grow any of its other fantasy games.
That changed 18 months ago, when ESPN decided to put all of its fantasy games in one app, rather than having a separate app for each fantasy game.
ESPN’s senior director of product management, Chris Jason, said that decision is the main reason ESPN’s fantasy results have been so big this year.
“The first big milestone was the launch of a single fantasy app last August,” said Jason, who essentially is in charge of product development for ESPN Fantasy.
…“The baseball app, frankly, was not as good as it should have been; same thing for basketball and hockey,” Jason said.
“When we moved the games into the single application, we built it in such a way that all of the games would benefit from the enhancements that we were making. We essentially achieved feature parity across all of our four seasonlong games.”
ESPN does not release user numbers for its specific fantasy games, but a spokesman said that more than 20 million people have played an ESPN fantasy sports game in the last 12 months. ESPN fantasy’s total number of unique users has nearly doubled over the last four years, with more than half of that growth occurring in the last 12 months.
It’s certainly interesting that one decision created such an effect, but this also seems to be in line with what other companies have done. Yahoo’s had all of its fantasy sports in one app since at least 2013, and CBS has done the same since at least 2014. It makes a lot of sense to have all the fantasy products under one roof, to make things easier for those who already play fantasy in multiple sports, to encourage those who only play in one sport to check out the company’s other offerings, and to devote more resources to smaller products than they’d receive as independent apps.
Ourand’s piece also notes some other changes to keep users playing longer, such as adding a second chance bracket to the Tournament Challenge (NCAA basketball) offering and boosting The Streak (formerly Streak for the Cash) by allowing users to go head-to-head with ESPN personalities. But it’s the move to combine these into one app that seems to have really paid off. It can be argued that ESPN was awfully late to the combined-app party here, with Yahoo and CBS beating them by years, but at least they eventually made the move, and it seems to be working out quite nicely for them.