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Sports Web sites keep scoring

Continuing a week of good news for sports-dedicated Internet programming, ESPN Ventures announces record traffic for its 1997 fourth quarter.

The good news for sports-dedicated Internet programming keeps on coming.

In the last week, CBS SportsLine announced a surge in its traffic, and MSNBC launched its sports site, MSNBCSports. Today, ESPN Ventures announced record traffic for its 1997 fourth quarter.

ESPN Ventures is a joint venture between ESPN and Starwave that encompasses such sites as ESPN SportsZone, NBA.com, NFL.com, and Outside Magazine.

The sites combined received 846,200,000 See related story: Net sports sites face post-season total impressions between October and December 1997. ESPN alone received 464 million page views for the quarter.

"The great thing about the growth in the traffic we've seen is that every time we kind of get used to breathing a thinner kind of air, within the next quarter the record seems mundane and we surpass it," said Geoff Reiss, senior vice president for ESPN Internet Ventures.

According to ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures sites received 229 percent more traffic this quarter than the CBS SportsLine family of sites, which includes SportsLine as well as several other smaller sites dedicated to specific athletes and sports.

SportsLine, the only sports site with publicly traded stock, watched its stock surge 25 percent after announcing a 251 percent increase in its site's traffic for the fourth quarter.

Although analyst Patrick Keane of Jupiter Communications said in an interview earlier See related story: SportsLine scores with page views this week that the sports Web site market was "saturated," Reiss believes that CBS and MSNBC's offerings validate the strengths of sports programming on the Internet.

"Sports has clearly demonstrated that this is one of the most successful categories in this whole media," Reiss said. "All of the launches speak to that."

In order to cement its lead in the competitive market, ESPN will work in 1998 to more tightly integrate its Internet, broadcast, and radio offerings, Reiss said.

"You're going to see more aggressive utilization for all the programming," he said. "We're constantly working to create synergies with our broadcast partners at ESPN, looking to reinforce those programming ties."

Reiss also said that some technology enhancements will be implemented during the next year, including the rollout of NBA Gamecast, which Reiss calls a "real time reporting device."

Analysts point to these kinds of site enhancements as key areas to work on for ESPN.

"In terms of the look and feel of the content of these sites, the real differences are the bells and whistles," Keane said.