The television network that calls itself the "worldwide leader in sports" is now among the few sports news APIs listed in our directory. The ESPN API provides developers with access to headlines, as well as a number of other areas available to premium partners. Before releasing its API, they were developed for two years internally, pointing to a common theme within the open API universe.
ESPN's Jason Guenther championed APIs within the company for two years, according to our interview with ESPN in December. At the time, developing APIs was a "top five priority" for the digital arm of ESPN.
Truly, the company has had APIs it used internally for longer than two years. Many of them were simply RSS or XML feeds of the most important information, like scores and team stats. The data was needed across ESPN properties and APIs are the best way to distribute that data. That's one of the reasons Guenther pushed the API amongst his technical colleagues. A first version of the API was available for select partners, but mostly used internally. That gave the team experience working with developers, because ESPN is big enough that internal product teams may be geographically--but certainly organizationally--widespread.
The APIs now listed on ESPN's developer site were built based on actual use cases from internal and external partners. The availability is also a sign of a common trend amongst API providers. Of ESPN's six API areas, only one is generally available to any developer. The others are available only to premium partners and ESPN. There's a lower partnership tier, but no APIs yet listed in it.
TechCrunch implies these may be available more broadly soon:
It will also be launching several other APIs in private beta (only for select partners at this point), including its Scores and Schedules API that provides start times, venues, competitors, scores, and stats across every major sport, as well as a set of other APIs that offer standings, team, and athlete information.
Internal APIs are common amongst companies, including those with public API presences. It is rare to publicize to developers what many will be unable to use, though there are some who do it, such as with some of the Best Buy APIs. Listing APIs that you reserve for select partners is a great business development tool, because it makes those partners aware that you have something ready to go. By offering documentation, ESPN is helping potential partners vet whether the API does what they need.
With ESPN's latest addition, our directory now includes 4 sports news APIs and 67 total sports APIs, including Yahoo's first ever fantasy sports API, something that would be nice to see ESPN emulate for its Fantasy products.