ESPN evidently plans to pull the plug on its mobile phone venture with Sprint Nextel. (You’ve seen the ads for it featuring a faux fan outside ESPN headquarters.) It gave me pause: Just why didn’t the offering work? It would seemingly fit much of what I advocate, charging a premium for a sports-themed experience.
It can’t be that it wandered too far from its “core competencies,” as ESPN has been very successful with its ESPN Zones and ESPN Skate Parks, and before entering those domains the company could hardly have been seen as expert in either restaurants or recreation-centers. So it isn’t a case of moving too far from its heritage. No, the mistake I think was in what it decided to move to.
The key to picking fertile turf for experiences resides in one’s ability to create a destination. Any communication device only serves as a conduit to reach various destinations. That’s why ESPN’s licensing of sports content works; each piece of content becomes a destination in an of itself.
The triumph of destination over devices also explains the up-and-down history of America Online. As long as AOL existed in the minds and (keyboarding) hands of customers as a destination, it continued to attract new people to the experience. (Way back when — before MySpace, before YouTube — at the height of its popularity, over 50% of the time consumed on AOL was in its chat rooms!) But as more and more content became available at non-AOL websites, AOL suddenly became merely a means to access these other content-destinations. And it lost customers as they sought cheaper conduit. (Thus the merger with Time-Warner, as a last-ditch effort to add more content.)
This has important implications for anyone seeking to stage experiences, for you must work to ensure your customers view your offerings as destinations. Consider all the Customer First award winners: they’re all destinations.