How Foursquare and ESPN Ended Up on the Same Team

It's not all 'cupcakes and kittens'

Foursquare may be one of the hottest startups around, but director of partnerships Jonathan Crowley (brother of CEO Dennis) admits that it's not a household name on the level of Facebook and Twitter. One of the keys to getting to that next level? Crowley said today that it will be through deals like a recent one with ESPN.

When users check-in to a sports location, Foursquare can pull information from ESPN, like what actual game is taking place. You could say that when a company like ESPN works with someone like Foursquare, the big name "legitimizes" the startup—but Crowley preferred to say that ESPN "introduced" Foursquare to a new audience. In fact, the day that the deal was announced, he said he started getting calls from other sports organizations that wanted to work together.

For that reason, Crowley said the deal is already a success. He admitted to some initial skepticism, because ESPN is owned by Disney and he assumed it would be stodgy and slow. Also, ESPN seemed to have a competing product called Passports (which the company has compared to a digital shoebox of game tickets). But they get along well—Crowley said the ESPN team he works with seems to operate like a startup, and they even played Street Fighter together after one of their meetings.

As for competing products, ESPN's director of social media Michael Cupo said he realized that ESPN had to "stay within our core." So rather than trying to put Passport head-to-head with Foursquare check-ins, it made sense to take advantage of the startup's expertise.

"This is not experimentation for us," Cupo said. "We feel that the Foursquare platform is going to be valuable for years to come."

Still, Crowley cautioned that it's not entirely "cupcakes and kittens." There are still things that Foursquare and ESPN haven't reached an agreement on, like whether Foursquare can make ESPN's data available to outside companies. And, when prompted by an audience member, Crowley also admitted that sports check-ins face another obstacle: When you've got a stadium full of fans, cell phone reception sucks.

"Unfortunately, my hands are sort of tied there," he said.