America Online and Broadband Sports, an online sports media company, are giving sports fans the chance to cast ballots for college football player of the year. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander, who publishes work online with both Broadband Sports and AOL Sports, is putting his official vote for the Heisman Trophy up for grabs.
There's a catch for some sports fans: Voters must be AOL members to log onto the Net giant's sports channel, which has a link to Telander's column and the poll. Once there, people can also post comments on a message board and chat about the vote and who should be selected.
Although Telander plans to use AOL members' choice as his top pick for the trophy, the official balloting puts a cap on who can determine the honoree. The national balloting includes 922 writers, broadcasters and former Heisman winners.
Some analysts were skeptical of the promotion, saying it calls into question the fairness of the voting process.
"I think it's definitely a clever idea that will create some buzz," said Jupiter Media Metrix analyst Christopher Todd. But, "if you're going to have open access, or if you want to have the general public cast one vote collectively, then perhaps the best way to do it would be to have a Web site where everyone could vote and not just users who use a specific service."
Telander is letting AOL members choose either Drew Brees, quarterback for Purdue University, or Josh Heupel, quarterback for University of Oklahoma, and will cast his vote for the collective favorite. Two other candidates are in the running for the award: Chris Weinke, quarterback for Florida State University, and Texas Christian University running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
Santa Monica-based Broadband Sports said that since voting began Tuesday, more than 20,000 ballots have been cast. The poll ends Thursday at 9 a.m. PST.
"The interactive nature of this is what makes this so interesting," said Jeff Pollack, vice president of new media publishing at Broadband Sports. "I think there's an incredible opportunity for unprecedented level of interaction between sports writers and sports fans."
Michael Legg, an analyst at Jefferies & Co., applauded the interactive component of the poll.
"I think that one of the things that's great about the Internet is that it does allow for polling and for a variety of things," Legg said. "Obviously anything that can attract consumer attention such as that (Heisman poll) is good."
Broadband Sports, which also provides content through other Internet and broadcast providers such as ESPN.com, Fox Sports, Lycos and Yahoo, is also auctioning memorabilia from former Heisman winners on eBay.
The Heisman winner will be announced Saturday night at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York.