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Internet

MSNBC to launch sports site

The new site is late to enter the crowded Net sports field, but it has NBC Sports' vast resources in its court.

    MSNBC tomorrow will announce it is joining the crowded playing field of Net sports programming.

    The new site, dubbed MSNBCSports.com, is coming late to a market that some analysts say is already saturated. A joint effort from MSNBC and NBC Sports, the site will be competing with ESPN SportsZone, CBS SportsLine, and CNNSI, as well as niche sites dedicated to specific sports.

    According to Merrill Brown, editor in chief of MSNBC on the Internet, MSNBCSports has the "home field advantage" among its competition: NBC Sports. MSNBCSports will have exclusive access to the network's enviable library of broadcasting rights, which include National Football League, National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball sports events, as well as promotional opportunities during NBC Sports broadcasts.

    "They [NBC] are the largest rights holder in the world," Brown said. "We're going to capitalize on what is our opportunity--the NBC television sports platform--which is vastly larger than what anyone else will have."

    That is exactly what MSNBC will have to do, analysts say, if they are to have any chance of succeeding against SportsZone and SportsLine, sites that were conceived to focus only on sports coverage.

    "Obviously offline, NBC is an incredible brand in terms of sports events, but their lives are not predicated on sports. ESPN's life is. Their business is sports and they can do that all day long," said Patrick Keane, an analyst with Jupiter Communications.

    MSNBCSports will feature MSNBC sports coverage, as well as multimedia audio and video clips, chat areas, and bulletin boards. While MSNBC will still feature sports coverage, MSNBCSports will benefit from the expanded partnership with NBC Sports, offering complementary pre- and post-game information. According to Keane, the site needs to leverage Microsoft's technology by adding those multimedia "bells and whistles" to differentiate itself from existing sports programming.

    Keane also noted that to succeed, MSNBCSports will have to compensate for the distribution partnerships that ESPN, SportsLine, and CNNSI already have signed with heavy on-air promotion from NBC.

    "There potentially is a soft point to target," Keane said. "You haven't seen too many integrate the online content in the offline sphere."

    MSNBC's chances are boosted by the immense popularity that sports sites enjoy on the Internet. SportsLine announced last week that its page views increased by 251 percent in the fourth quarter over the same period last year. MSNBC hopes to lure those eyeballs to its offering, in addition to holding on to viewers who until now have left the MSNBC site in search of sports coverage.

    "The strategy of these news sites is that you don't want to push users away, you want them to get it all on your site," Keane said.