ESPN buys Cricinfo to help European drive

The sale of a niche cricketing website to multinational sports company ESPN is part of a drive to cement the brand in Europe, the company has said.

The sale to Disney-owned ESPN last Monday has been viewed as an attempt to address the corporation’s image abroad as an American sports broadcaster.

Cricinfo serves a niche market, but the 14-year-old website was one of the first online content sites and attracts over seven million unique users worldwide.

Its previous owner, Wisden, has been busy shedding its publishing interests this year –magazines Wisden Cricketer and The Oldie have been sold – and has pledged to invest heavily in its newer business of sport technology, led by ball-tracking device Hawkeye.

A spokesman for the company said the move was not part of any overarching strategy by Wisden to shed its publishing portfolio, but that different brands needed other specialist expertise for future growth.

Wisden Cricketer was sold to BSkyB Publications and the The Oldie to private investors, led by the magazine’s former business manager, James Pembroke, in April this year.

‘We didn’t see ourselves in the future as a magazine publisher, but the Cricinfo sale came about for different reasons,’the spokesman said.

‘The magazines business is a significantly mature business and, like many other significantly mature businesses, there are many economies of being part of a bigger group which specialises in publishing print magazines. We had two small print titles which as a magazine publishing business in a mature industry, didn’t really make much sense.”

Wisden Cricketer’s Almanac and its associated publications will continue as a specialist book publishing business and Hawkeye will be retained, but as two separate businesses, according to the company.

In an open letter on the site, Cricinfo’s editor Sambit Bal said that the takeover had been ‘fraught”, but that the sale offered new opportunities.

‘We will have access to better technology and design facilities, our multimedia capabilities will be enhanced and, who knows, some day there might even be Cricinfo TV,’he said.

An ESPN spokesman confirmed that all staff will move with the title.

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