ESPN has transitioned to the age of online news better than any major sports journalism outlet from last millennia. The outlet remains the source of choice for the majority of sports fans, even while the site’s writing often leaves much to be desired (especially after the dismemberment of the long form wing, “Grantland”). This success is due most notably to the company’s commitment to the formatting of its site. Not only was effort put into the original formatting (which from 2009-2015 was acceptable, even in the later years), but even more was put into the most recent reformat, leading to one of the slickest web experiences in sports media.
That reformat, which occurred in 2015 changed a plethora of aspects. Perhaps most immediately noticable is the white space. This is a trend, not just on ESPN, but everywhere (CNN, NBC and Hulu, you name it). White side bars are a huge format trend on the internet not just because they accommodate more screen resolutions, but also because they give the site a sense of simplicity. It also allows the to fill the side bars with easy to digest information, like headlines or scores.
And easy to digest is really the modus operandi of ESPN. Their site serves a very simple and important purpose in the sports world: to give quick and easy access to both scores and headlines. No site does it quite like theirs. Look first at the side bar. The reformat did wonders for the front page because it now delivers personalized and pithy headlines to the reader immediately. It somehow fits as much (or more sometimes) relevant information onto the front screen while also getting rid of the crammed, newspaper look of the past.
Even more important is the ticker. It is the magnum opus of this site and the reason I visit it once a day even while finding their writing entirely lacking. Even before the reformat, it was the best one in the business. It follows an important principle that some competitors, like Yahoo, haven’t figured out: the longer, the better. The longer the ticker, the more information can be displayed. The ticker serves a quick check for score, and if I can accomplish that without hitting any buttons, it is far better. After the reformat, ESPN doubled down on this principle, stretching the ticker the full length of the screen. Combined with quality of life changes, like a smoother side scroll and a “top events” section, ESPN now has the best sports ticker in the business, period. The end result of all these changes is that ESPN has one of the best user experiences on the web.