ESPN Developer Center a Small Step in the Right Direction

Josh Miller

  • Reading Time  Min Read
  • Publish Date March 9, 2012

Earlier this week, ESPN launched the ESPN Developer Center, solidifying the geekiness of sports with the geekiness of technology.

For all you tech types out there that take pride in not knowing anything about sports, this is potentially a pretty big deal. ESPN is the ‘worldwide leader in sports’ and has a vast store of information, both current and historical, about all major sports (even hockey).

ESPN Developer Center

Six APIs have been released: the Headlines API, Research Notes API, Athletes API, Scores & Schedules API, Standings API and Teams API. Headlines and Research Notes are official releases, while the other four APIs are still in Beta. ESPN has divided the availability of the APIs into 4 tiers: public, partner, premium partner and ESPN.

The only API available to the public is the Headlines API (more on this later).

Using the API is pretty straightforward. A user signs up for a key and then uses that key to retrieve information in either an xml or json response. Error handling is built in, and a few examples are provided to guide the developer along. There is a limit of 2,500 calls per day and 1 call per second at the public tier. Apps must be branded appropriately as using the ESPN APIs.

Popular mobile/tablet apps like Pulse and Flipboard were given early access to the APIs and are featured in the Showcase section of the site to highlight how the Headlines API is already being used.

As an equal parts sports and technology fan, I’m excited about the potential of having access to one of the many things that ESPN does well – information about sports.

I am, however, a little disappointed with this initial offering. Though six APIs have been released, only one is available to the public, and it is by far the least sexy of the offerings.

Further, it is not clear on the procedure to become a partner or premium partner, save emailing an API opportunities address to get more information. According to the overview page, only ‘an ESPN moderator can upgrade your access to a different group.’ I’d like to see a clear description of what a relationship with ESPN would look like to an app or developer in the long term at each of the different tiers.

The terms and conditions state that the API, at least at the public tier, can only be used in apps that are non-commercial and do not feature in-app purchases. While I agree that any app that would blatantly rip off the information that ESPN provides and be for sale is deplorable, what about apps that may use any of the APIs as supplemental information in an existing sports-related app? If that app charges a fee for use, it can’t utilize any of the ESPN APIs as a value-add to its already existing offering.

Also, 2,500 calls per day is fairly low. Sure, calls can be cached, and sports does not happen that fast, but Google Maps caps their daily API calls at tens times the amount that ESPN offers. To me, that’s a significant difference.

Despite misgivings on the initial rollout of the APIs, I think the potential of the ESPN Developer Center is too great to not take advantage of in some capacity. Overall this new endeavor from ESPN will probably prove to be successful.

Tell us what you think. Are the ESPN Developer APIs exciting, or do you think they’re kinda lame at this stage? How big is the developer/sports fan Venn diagram overlap?