New Channels, Internet Sites Compete for Sports Fans' Time

Article excerpt

The NFL and NBA, waging a constant battle for supremacy in the hearts and minds of American sports fans, are now using their long-standing rivalry to push the boundaries of new media.

The result will be a key litmus test to see exactly how powerful each league is beyond their current strongholds of broadcast network TV.

Several weeks ago, the NBA announced its intent to form NBA.com TV, a new channel on satellite and digital cable TV devoted to all things pro basketball. The channel, which is set to debut, will feature in-game updates, basketball-related features and lifestyle-based basketball programming and archival footage.

Last week the NFL upped the ante by announcing that the league's Quarterback Club, which is designed to promote the league's top players, has joined New York on-line broadcaster Pseudo Programs Inc. to create a new Internet-only football channel. The QB Club Channel, scheduled to start in December on www.pseudo.com, will be devoted to highlighting the off-the-field lives of NFL stars.

Planned features include an animated show featuring QB Club members, including Redskins quarterback Brad Johnson, and stories on the members' offseason activities and charity work.

The four-year deal, estimated at between $4 million and $6 million, gives the Quarterback Club a sizable minority stake in Pseudo, as well as a board seat to former Cleveland quarterback Bernie Kosar. Should the company go public, as is expected, the club's stake in Pseudo could soar beyond $20 million.

"We're going to a much, much deeper level of coverage than television," said Pseudo president Larry Lux. "We simply don't have time and space and constraints, and we'll have a whole level of interactivity that we think is very compelling."

But this, of course, assumes that viewers will tune in. But will those slogging through with a 28.8 baud modem wait frame after frame to find out what Brett Favre does on his day off? With the NFL taking a central role in producing programming, will the likely saccharine feel of the channel turn off viewers? Analysts don't foresee it as a problem.

"For every pro league, this is essentially about extending their brands and finding a way to connect with fans beyond game time - in the NFL's case beyond Sunday and Monday night," said Gary Arlen, a Bethesda communications consultant who has worked with the NFL's interactive division. "Web usage, as we all know, skews to younger viewers, and younger viewers are often more interested in lifestyle pieces than X's and O's. The key and value to all of this is that the Web is so accessible."

Stay tuned.

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