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ESPN Developer Center (espn.com)
106 points by duck on Mar 5, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 76 comments

Despite the restrictions, I actually thought this would be cool. Maybe I can cook something up something useful for myself and my friends?

However... NO SCORE DATA in the free API?! That's the only useful information. Just limit free API usage so I can at least toy with it without having to completely sell my soul.

So basically, all I can do through the public API is pull news headlines. Without paying ESPN, all I can build is a free app (no ads either!) and use it to add headlines to direct traffic to your site. There is no incentive for any developer to use this.

Here's a hint ESPN: you already have free "Headlines API." They're called RSS feeds.


There, every headline you could want from ESPN.

Oh, you want something more specific? Here, I just created my own feed for LSU Baseball: http://search.espn.go.com/rss/lsu-baseball/

CBSSports.com http://developer.cbssports.com/ launched a similar product a few months back - it seems to be going well and offers more data than ESPN does, including fantasy data. My initial reaction is that ESPN hastily cooked this up as a response to what CBS did.

Disclaimer, I work for CBS Interactive, the parent company of CBS Sports.

I used to work for ESPN Digital and gave feedback on the early revs of this API.

I can tell you that this wasn't a hasty response from ESPN - we've been fighting for this in some shape or form for years now internally. Chris and his boss deserve a lot of credit for making space internally to make this happen.

There's a lot more behind this than meets the eye. Internally, these APIs essentially power all of ESPN's mobile alerts, fantasy products, etc. That's not a response to CBS.

Give these guys time. It takes longer to get a big company to move, especially when the potential market opportunity seems like a rounding error on the cable TV profits (at least to said TV execs). You've got a good person on the inside trying to open up more data. Don't give up on them, give them feedback - they're listening.


The TOS is horrible.

"Your Application must be designed to permit CBSi to comply with it's Privacy Policy, which may be updated by CBSi from time to time without notice to you. "

Pretty much everything in the TOS is some variant of "you must comply with this" and "we are not responsible for notifying you when we change it." This seems like a raw deal to me.

Updating for bugs is hard enough. But, this API forces developers to comply with UI guidelines (which are impossible to even write tests for) without anything back.

The API even requires that all financial transactions go through CBSi. Wow.

Apple and other app stores have gotten a lot of shit for changing requirements of their app stores, and rightly so. But, they started with compelling and clear offerings of the opportunity. The TOS of this API look so terrible up front I would not consider using it as a small developer. If your bosses at CSBi want to attract these types of people, I would recommend coming up with a tiered approach. ESPN does this better in this case.

What/where is the pricing? Can't find it.

CBS takes a 30% cut on all app sales

Mh, never mind. Right now they only support baseball, and football is not even on the list. (soccer for americans)

I'm sure they will add american football this summer. and I haven't heard of fantasy soccer on cbs sports.

How far back does your score data go?

I checked out their FAQ. Holy restrictions Batman. I've been wanting to do something with score data for awhile but with this many restrictions, why bother? I'll just crawl the data from other sources. Good effort ESPN...

I quote from http://developer.espn.com/terms:

  The following default rules apply to all Apps:

  - Branding. All Apps must include an approved ESPN trademark, logo or other 
    intellectual property (each, an "ESPN Mark").

  - Advertising. No advertising or sponsorship of any kind may appear on or be
    associated with any App (unless included in the Content made available by

  - No Charge. All Apps must be offered free of charge to download or 
    otherwise access and may not contain any in-App purchase features.

  If you are interested in creating a for-profit App, please
  contact us at apipartneropps@espn.com to discuss a 
  potential partnership opportunity. All for-profit Apps 
  must be pre-approved in writing by ESPN (such approval to 
  be granted or withheld in ESPN’s sole discretion). To the
  extent any for-profit Apps are approved in writing by ESPN
  (in its sole discretion), you will be solely responsible 
  for any and all taxes due in connection with the 
  distribution of such App in any territory.
Kind of limits the use cases...

Word on the street is that ESPN has a tendency to listen to an idea, not make the deal, and build it themselves instead. So even going the partnership route is risky...

Doing anything that involves licensing pro sports is pricy, thats why ESPN is the most expensive cable channel by a long shot. They do have to be vultures about their for reasons that are outside their control (for all we know, they're making an uncharacteristically huge margin too, but even if they weren't the restrictions would probably be about the same).

And I highly recommend you consult with a lawyer before scraping for data if you plan to do anything public with it.

In 2009 Fox Sports Net along with ESPN were the only two cable channels with subscriber fees of over $1. Full list: http://allthingsd.com/20100308/hate-paying-for-cable-heres-t...

This is what happens when the lawyers get ahold of a good idea.

Lawyers didn't stamp "Nerds" in 143px font on the front page. Their lawyers are no better than the rookie management/marketing team who made that call.

Ya, that was pretty unimpressive too. Thanks ESPN for helping me relive my highschool name calling! /sarcasm

Can't say I'm shocked by that - reading the book "These Guys Have All The Fun" lead me to believe that ESPN is an jockocracy based on power rather than talent.

Agreed, this API is a good first attempt but there are too many restrictions for me to be interested.

Jefe - you may want to check out sportsdatallc.com. They're working on a simple self serve api for stats that would be very cheap (or even free) if you're not hitting it daily.

We're using them at StarStreet.com and have been really happy with them.

Let me know if you'd like an intro to them, we just split a booth with them at the sloan sports conference and their new stuff is really exciting.

The terms of service are even better, make sure to read the three bullet points in section 3...

So you can't charge for an app and you can't place any ads either (except the ones that come from the API).

But it'll look great in your portfolio!

Reading their Terms of Service... Section 3...

"Branding. All Apps must include an approved ESPN trademark, logo or other intellectual property (each, an "ESPN Mark"). Advertising. No advertising or sponsorship of any kind may appear on or be associated with any App (unless included in the Content made available by ESPN). No Charge. All Apps must be offered free of charge to download or otherwise access and may not contain any in-App purchase features."

Correct me if I'm wrong - but they've made it impossible to monetize my effort, correct? I don't see how this will go anywhere if that is the case. It seems like they just want developers to build extra ESPN apps for them, and then give them all away for free. Ugh.

They explain how to contact them if you'd like to sell an app. The idea is that they do not want you earning money from their data without them getting a cut. Similar to how Apple does not allow you to use their distribution channel without taking a cut.

Apple's solution is much more clear, however. Before you ever develop an app, you know to expect a 70/30 cut. If ESPN provided those details upfront, I'd be much happier. As it stands, seems like quite a risk to take.

Too bad ESPN half-assed this. The pro sports industry is so perfect for doing awesome data-based products. All that data that drives all the on-screen stats/replays/camera angles during a TV broadcast... you could just build awesome interfaces around that. Stuff that would greatly enhance entertainment for sports nuts and casual fans.

The data is there. The tech is here. It's the lawyers holding this back. And the CEOs who think they'll still be able to rake in huge profits from selling TV rights 5 years from now.

ESPN, you know cableTV is what made you, you should be smart enough to realize that cableTV has started its decline.

Would love to see ESPN/Disney/ABC partner with Apple to build a real interactive TV platform.

"Would love to see ESPN/Disney/ABC partner with Apple to build a real interactive TV platform."

With Iger being on the Apple board of directors and recently purchasing a chunk of AAPL stock for himself, it's quite possible that he'll do whatever he can to help Apple get access to ESPN/Disney/ABC content.

Probably not going to happen but to entertain a wild speculative guess, he could finesse an AAPL buyout of Disney/ESPN/ABC too if the partnership is successful from their business viewpoints.

There is an incredible opportunity for Dis/ESPN/ABC to partner with Apple. They have amazing content. That kind of content deal with a new AppleTV is the kind of thing that would finally fundamentally change the whole TV platform, I think at a level that your normal consumer would understand and want.

Lots of family-friendly products too, which is something that is always key for both companies.

The time is now. Consumers are increasingly not seeing the value in cable TV any more, where is that $100+/month going to go? Apple, Amazon, Netflix? Apple has the closest thing to a real TV app platform, and lots of developers behind it too. The content is the missing piece.

Possibly an indicator of how this will go: watch what the newspaper/mag/book publishers do with a new retina iPad. Do they finally embrace? Do they stop putting out glorified PDFs of their print products and calling them digital magazines? Was Apple able to partner with anyone for the iPad3 launch? 5 years from now it's going to be an expensive luxury to get a printed newspaper or magazine delivered to your house. Everyone is ready for this EXCEPT the content producers!

Good job ESPN. I was excited about this until I registered and realized I could only use headline data. This thing is completely useless without giving everyone access to at least two more data streams. (No scores?!) FAIL.

Nice try though.

I really wish they shared score data, as thats most relevant to me. headline data only drives more traffic to them. You apparently have to be a premium partner to get the "good" data. http://developer.espn.com/docs

Yeah, this is really unfortunate. I run a game thread generator for the NBA subreddit (essentially just builds a nice pre-game data table for a user to create a thread), I guess it's going to stick with insane scraping for now: https://github.com/alex/nba-gamethread

Very cool Alex. I was actually seriously considering advertising in the /r/NBA reddit. It seems like it has a loyal following of well informed fans. Just what I love! :)

The only problem is that I'm not sure how many play fantasy basketball.

I don't play fantasy basketball myself, but from reading the comments a lot of the other commenters do.

Another option that I used for a side project is http://developer.fanfeedr.com/.

I've used fanfeedr as well in the past, worked well.

So basically, it's useless unless you pay a lot or sign some nasty contracts?

ESPN Exec: Hey, we should have one of those API things like Facebook does. Just make sure we don't give away any of our data. Developer: Sigh. Ok.

That's about right. Without teams/scores/standings an ESPN API is useless. Fail.

Congrats ESPN. You're going to get a lot of boring derivatives of what you already have. Meanwhile, developers interested in making money will build right around you. There has been staggeringly little innovation in products for sports fans. ESPN is ensuring that "the Worldwide Leader" doesn't appear anywhere on the next great product.

I'm hoping the data available at the "premium partner" level will come down to the basic users as time goes on, and it's just to make sure nothing is overwhelmed the first week or so.

For those curious, the API limits for basic users:

>1 Calls per second

>2,500 Calls per day

Don't bet on it. A lot of sports data is highly encumbered by copyright.

You sure? Facts can't be copyrighted, I think sports scores are considered facts.

I thought this way as well, but professional sports leagues argue that their efforts generate the data, so they own it (i.e. without their venues, players, coaches and additional resources, those numbers wouldn't exist). They will allow you to consume that data in approved ways, such as going to see a game or watching it on TV, but they do not allow you to record and use that data for profit without permission. The companies who provide sports data feeds have jumped through a lot of hoops and pay significant fees to license that data. The companies that use those feeds do, too (e.g. fantasy sports league manager services, sports reporting services, sports betting services, etc.)

Unfortunately, some people think facts can be copyrighted: see http://www.premierleague.com/en-gb/news/news/football-dataco...

I'm sure like a lot of other things it's open to a countries laws and interpretation. According Corynne McSherry, EFF's Intellectual Property Director, "It's a fundamental principle of copyright law that facts are not copyrightable" State side something like this should be ok.

However, it doesn't sound like the same protection is afforded in the UK with regards to the English and Scottish Premier Leagues based on the link you provided.

Source: https://www.eff.org/press/releases/eff-wins-protection-time-...

I'm honestly not sure about what is free to use and what is not. If you guys are looking for a free stats solution for MLB, head over to http://erikberg.com/mlb/ .

Perhaps an expert can say whether it is legal to make money via advertisements if you use this data.

A lot of people seem to be surprised about the ToS for this.

It sounds to me to be clearly a tool for fans, not "Entepreneurs". I know tons of people who would love to analyze sports data for enjoyment, not profit. Since the data is so hard to get access to anyway, this API is a way to let those who are interested play around with things without being a potential competitor. ESPN wins, fans win. "Sort of like Zynga for sports-focused Foursquare groups" gets no dice, apparently.

For Fanvibe (YC S'10) we looked at a variety of sports stats providers, including TSN, Stats, and SportsDirect (who we used). These are the guys that license all the structured data to ESPN and others. No matter who you work with, its pretty painful to use this data and their schemas. And they all make you sign paying contracts before you can play with the data.

We used services like Superfeedr to grab a variety of RSS feeds, including ESPN's, to grab headlines.

ESPN, CBS Sports, the Yahoo Fantasy Football API are all middlemen when it comes to sports. The only thing they own is original video content (talking heads, not highlights) and their headlines & articles. Don't look to them for the solution. Its a big step forward for an organization like ESPN to do this, but its going to be much slower than the speed of tech-focused companies that are the usual on HN.

From my experience, better to build around ESPN and others than to try to work with them to push innovation forward.

Disclaimer: I'm one of the founders of Fanvibe, and also used to work at ESPN.

Please don't call me a nerd.

  if(ESPN_API.CommercialApplications == NOT_ALLOWED)
    // Work for free to further ESPN brand
    // Can't make any money
    // Now they are being realistic
    // We can all make some money

I've also looked into licensing live sports data from Stats, Inc. and it is prohibitively expensive (i.e. tens of thousands of dollars to get started). It seems like the timing is right for a crowdsourced solution for live sports data that is developer friendly.

That is a heck of an idea. Live data is definitely out of my price and would love to help if someone decided to crowdsource live stats. :)

Sports is a huge market that is dangerously behind the access curve. We built Football Verdict (http://www.footballverdict.com) using QuickStats, which was a reliable NFL score service.

I've always wanted to set up my own fantasy league for football (UK), but the data is prohibitively expensive. Any move to make stats more available can only be a good thing, even if it's not exactly perfect (yet).

If you've got time on your hands and you aren't trying to run a live exchange, it's not that hard to write something that checks into Yahoo! Sports, or the madduxsports lines or linesmaker.com and scrapes the scores and lines every few hours.

Or you can try OddsMiner.com, I don't know what their pricing is like but if it's a small project it sounds like they're flexible.

Thanks for the sources, will look into them. OddsMiner could be useful.

My first reaction was to scrape data, but as it's for a fantasy league, which runs for at least an entire season, there is a good chance the scraper will break a few times during the season, potentially requiring a re-write. This isn't ideal if on the week it breaks I don't have time to update the code.

I scrape ESPN data for this tool:


Generates recaps/box-scores that are used by....yup, ESPN TrueHoop bloggers.

What about outsourcing it? Perhaps using MechanicalTurk to have people enter game data.

It'll cost you some money, but depending on how much you value your time, it could still be a bargain.

But is that legal to scrape data?

checkout using YQL to pull data from Yahoo! Sports.

So how does one become a 'Premium Partner'? Can't seem to find out how.

It's confusing too. The API suggest 4 tiers but then in the FAQ it mentions 3 tiers. The top tier is for ESPN itself?

ESPN: "Hey guys we are cool, right? We opened up our API so that anyone at ESPN can use. Let's tell the world!!"

Yes. I was hoping someone would find out the pricing but I guess it's safe to assume that it's outrageous.

So they're asking us to build apps that perpetuate their branding and marketing efforts without giving us the opportunity to generate revenue.

Pass. Nerds.

I work for a company that does the sports websites for a lot of college clients, we provide tons of rss feeds with scores, schedules, news, and all kinds of other information all for free. ESPN is in this to help themselves from it, not to get the information out there and help fans.

I was researching a local sports startup about 10 years ago, but the barrier to entry was so high that it was impossible to even build an MVP without outside funding. Professional sports is an industry that will be dominated by the major outlets for many years to come.

I'd begin taking this seriously the day they started making the Wisden cricket database available. For quite some time now, I've been looking for the ball-to-ball accounts of cricket matches since the formation of the ICC.

Does anyone have some alternatives? Someone already mentioned cbs sports. But some API that have access too football (soccer for Americans) league tables, match times, scores etc.

its very limiting who wants to access new we want to access scores, league match schedule etc, this api is very limiting

check out http://xmlteam.com/fod/. Pay as you. I was considering them except my site does not generate enough (any) money to justify the cost. Ended up using YQL to scrape the data from another site.

I consult for XMLTeam, and if you call them up, explain what you're trying to do, they'll be reasonable about it. Good guys, there.

Please have an espn3 api, please have an espn3 api, please have an espn3 api...

well darn!

The landing page makes a nerd joke. How cliché.

ESPN is one of the greatest brokers of all time.

time for a Fantasy Hockey app! Just in time for the end of the season!

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