Partnerships--strange bedfellows?

How did your team do? Did the running back on your fantasy league team run for over 100 yards? Rather than wait for the late Sportscenter, you instead hop on the Internet and check out ESPN.com, where you notice a link to NFL.com. But aren't these competing sites?

Well, this is actually part of the exciting world of Internet partnerships.

Racing toward objective journalism?

The ESPN marriage to the NFL, NBA and NHL official Web sites is just one of many partnerships. While the NBA is now an independent operation, information and content is often exchanged between ESPN and the NBA. But why would these sites still interact with one another? They interact because of a need, a need to have a symbiotic relationship that is beneficial to both parties.

"It's clear that the Internet crosses a lot of dividing lines and we need to work together to figure out how to exploit it."
Doug Allen, President of the NFL Players Association

It's an alliance based out of necessity as the world attempts to grasp the confines of the Internet. But some of these partnerships between an official league or team Web site and an outside party have interesting journalistic implications.

One recent partnership is between NASCAR and Turner Sports. Nascar.com is designed to be "100%" unfiltered according to Turner Sports President Mark Lazarus. Turner is scheduled to take over the site in January; the six figure deal cost an estimated $100 million dollars. Turner Sports claims that it will use its journalistic clout to make nascar.com more than just an outlet for racing fans to purchase merchandise.

While the Cincinnati Bengals' attempts to bring balanced coverage to their Web site have been documented, this situation is somewhat unique. NASCAR is very image-conscious. However, with much of the control of the site now in Turner's hands, the content will be altered drastically.

Almighty Dollar

Along with content and role changes, the other aspect of partnerships is how leagues and the Internet will coexist in coming years. The NASCAR/Turner alliance could impact other future deals. According to media and entertainment analyst Eric Scheirer,



"What is happening now is that the stage is being set for some years down the line when real negotiations over the Internet rights are held."

Those "real" negotiations are rapidly approaching. Sportsline USA just missed out on acquiring nfl.com. They were outbid by ESPN, which paid a reported $10 million to be affiliated with the site. But that contract runs out after the 2000 season, and according to Sportsline President Mike Levy,

"It's going to be the biggest competition we've seen for a league's Internet site."

Sportsline has positioned itself to make a move after being a part of NFLEurope.com, the NFL's developmental league. The site was bought for $250,000 and Sportsline will split the profits with the NFL. While the site doesn't generate nearly the interest or traffic as nfl.com, it allows Sportsline to market its product.

"What the NFL wants is a site that looks good, functions well, and generates revenue for the League. With NFL Europe, we have a great opportunity to show them what we can do."

Home Journalism Partnerships Convergence
Online Athlete Bibliography About the Author