Game on for MSN, FoxSports site

Two companies to unveil co-branded sports Web site Thursday. Can it show some muscle against rival ESPN, others?

Microsoft's MSN and News Corp.'s Fox Sports on Thursday will unveil their co-branded sports Web site in a move to tap the growing market for online sports content.

As previously reported, MSN in May announced a deal with to exclusively provide sports programming throughout the Web portal. The agreement ended a three-year partnership between MSN and Walt Disney's

A first look at the MSN-FoxSports co-branded Web site For FoxSports, the deal is an attempt to gain traction against competitors such as ESPN, Yahoo Sports and Sportsline. FoxSports currently ranks below all three in terms of audience and popularity. The site hopes the benefits of partnering with MSN will give it the traffic and business boost it needs to become more competitive.

"It's a strategic play," said Ross Levinsohn, general manager of Fox Sports Interactive Media. "We should double traffic" after the co-branded site is launched, he added.

Over the past few months, online sports programming has become a hot commodity. In March, Microsoft signed a two-year, $40 million deal to offer live streaming video of Major League Baseball games for its MSN subscribers. Just weeks before, streaming media rival RealNetworks ended talks to renew its exclusive deal with MLB.

America Online also struck a deal with MLB to get live audio feeds and archived video clips for $9 million over two years. The MLB agreements mark the largest of their kind in Internet history and could signal more lucrative deals for programming rights down the road.

With Thursday's launch, FoxSports plans to redesign its Web site with new navigation and features. Both MSN and FoxSports will sell advertising throughout the revamped site. Like its ESPN deal, FoxSports will include an MSN banner across the top of its Web page linking to other sites in its family such as Hotmail, search and shopping.

The updated site will place an emphasis on streaming video clips offered by FoxSports through MSN Video. Both companies will sell advertising within the clips and share revenue.

For MSN in particular, offering video has become a priority. The company wants its Windows Media Player technology to become the most popular multimedia software for Web users. More companies are trying to get into video as well, including ESPN which offers video highlights on its Web site.

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