Newspaper publishers have had to deal recently with Internet competition arising from below: craigslist, for example, along with hyper-local news blogs.

But now, the heat is coming from on high -- and from the (albeit self-titled) World Wide Leader, no less.

Sports juggernaut ESPN has made its next move in a go-local strategy. After four months operating a pilot sports website catering only to Chicago fans, ESPN announced Tuesday that it would roll out three more local URLs in New York, Dallas and Los Angeles.

ESPN, majority owned by Walt Disney ( DIS), will attempt to continue the success of its Chicago offering. Within four months of its launch, the site became a more-visited Internet sports-news organ than the web sports sections of either the Chicago Tribune or the Chicago Sun-Times, according to ESPN, which cited data from comScore, a measurer of web site audiences.

In a press release, ESPN said its Dallas site will open first, in the fall, while New York and L.A. will come in the first half of 2010. No other cities were cited as future targets, but it's clear that ESPN wants eventually to hit every major sports market in the country. Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and the San Francisco Bay Area immediately spring to mind as obvious.

It's no coincidence -- and hardly a secret -- that newspapers in those towns have seen better days.
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