Much talk around that whole media-insider sports world today — that is to say, the people who follow sports but don't actually like them anymore — about the February NetNielsen ratings, which showed Fox Sports ahead of ESPN.com for the first time. Combined with the recent departure of EIC John Papanek from the head spot, some are theorizing that the four-letter word network is slipping.
That may be true, but we're not sure we're convinced of it from those numbers. First off, Fox Sports pays plenty of cash to be promoted off MSN's page, which gives them tons of unique visitors who aren't inherently planning on jumping to FoxSports. Also, ESPN's numbers did fall from January to February, but, well, February is a shorter month than January, with fewer sports going on; tons of sports sites lose numbers over that month, including us.
ESPN might not be the Absolutely Must-See-First stop it was a couple of years ago ... but any thought that those guys are getting weaker is, for now, awfully premature.
(UPDATE: An exec from Fox Sports writes in with a clarification:
"Just to be clear, we don't pay MSN anything for that placement. When ESPN left the MSN partnership that left a hole in MSN's service and we agreed to fill that void. We share revenue generated from that traffic.")