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Yahoo turns fantasy sports fees into reality

The Web portal introduces a paid feature for its online fantasy baseball league in an attempt to increase its non-advertising revenue.

Yahoo on Monday introduced a paid feature for its online fantasy baseball league in an attempt to increase its non-advertising revenue.

The company will offer a real-time statistics tracker for fantasy league participants. Players can also follow their leagues through wireless connections such as Web-enabled cell phones. Both features come packaged at $4.95 per person for the remainder of the 2001 Major League Baseball season.

Adding "premium services," as these fee-based perks are dubbed, highlights the online giant's push to find revenue outside the battered advertising market. New Yahoo CEO Terry Semel has made this shift a priority, and the company has unveiled several paid services over the past few months.

"This hopefully established a new revenue model for Yahoo Sports that will open up broader and deeper relationships with leagues and rights holders," said Tonya Antonucci, director of production at Yahoo.

The Web portal is not the first to introduce fees for fantasy sports leagues, which allow people to create their own teams and compete with others based on statistics. Since Walt Disney's inception, people have paid to participate in its fantasy sports games; the company now charges up to $29.95 per person.

Although such fantasy sports features may interest online fans, it could take more exclusive content such as video or audio clips to lure advertisers and paying subscribers to Yahoo's actual sports coverage. But such features are beginning to come at a price, as many sports organizations attempt to attract subscriptions on their own, rather than rely on the portals.

For example, Major League Baseball signed a $20 million deal in April to let RealNetworks sell subscriptions to online baseball game broadcasts. Yahoo provided Web hosting services for the league until the announcement.

"For Yahoo to stay in the game, they're going to have to start paying" to carry sports coverage, said Patrick Keane, an analyst at Jupiter Media Metrix.

But paying may not be enough. Competitors such as and CBS SportsLine potentially have more clout than Yahoo when obtaining sports content because of their tie-ins with the leagues on the broadcast side.

"Yahoo may aggregate more viewer eyeballs over time, but don't think they'll ever become the branded home of sports online in the same way that ESPN is," said Scott Doniger, an analyst at Forrester Research.