Magazine article Newsweek

Jock-Fight on the Net

Magazine article Newsweek

Jock-Fight on the Net

Article excerpt

It was the latest round in one of the Internet's fiercest fights: last week an intruder stole customer credit-card numbers from the ESPN SportsZone Web site and e-mailed the card owners smugly alerting them to the theft. Not two days later, rival CBS SportsLine had its own letter out--to the media, describing why this could never happen to them.

Surprise: Web sports sites are just as competitive as the athletes they cover. Diehards flock to these sites for their fix of scores, news and fantasy leagues, making the field one of the fastest growing on the Internet. MSNBC, ABC, Prodigy and AOL all offer sports content on the Web, but the real heavyweights are ESPN SportsZone, the market leader, and CBS SportsLine, the 3-year-old upstart that wants to knock its block off. SportsZone has about twice the audience of SportsLine and the cachet of ESPN's 18 years of cable experience. But now SportsLine has a secret weapon: Michael Jordan. It recently signed the Chicago Bulls star to a 10-year, $10 million deal to create his own Web page and answer fan e-mail. The goal: "I didn't start this company to be No. 2," says CBS SportsLine CEO Michael Levy.

Both services have heavyweight backers. Last April Disney (which owns ESPN) bought one third of Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen's Starwave, the Web-design company that runs SportsZone. Meanwhile, SportsLine linked up with CBS last March, after talks with Fox fell through. Neither site is profitable--last year SportsLine lost nearly $13 million. …

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