NCAA traffic puts full-court press on Net

College basketball fans heading to the Web for the latest on March Madness mainly receive good service, but many run into delays and missed connections at ESPN.com, a report says.

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College basketball fans heading to the Web for the latest on March Madness mainly received good service, but many ran into delays and missed connections at sports site ESPN.com, according to a new Web traffic analysis report.

When the first round of the NCAA Basketball Championships tipped off this week, Walt Disney's ESPN.com suffered the slowest connection times compared with the other major sports sites. ESPN's NCAA site provides the latest news and statistics about the tournament as well as other features such as information on rankings, teams, players and a college message board.

ESPN confirmed that it experienced technical difficulties on its Web site as a result of increased traffic but said it had resolved those issues. The company said that it received about 62 million page views Thursday.

More than half of people trying to get onto ESPN's NCAA Basketball page experienced problems or were unable to access the site, according to Web measurement company Keynote Systems.

Web page performance and availability for the page had only a 49.7 percent success rate with a download time of 7.3 seconds between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. PST this week, according to Keynote. The low availability on the ESPN site was caused by connection time-outs.

"Web sites need to be prepared for high-traffic events," said Keynote spokeswoman Mary Lindsay. "There are some content errors involved here (that) indicate people were not able to gain access to the site."

Keynote said the availability of ESPN's NCAA page on Wednesday spiraled down to its lowest level with only a 39.6 percent success rate.

Hitting March Madness
How sites have been handling increased traffic from visitors looking for updates on the NCAA tournament:

Web site Performance 3/11-3/15*
  ESPN NCAA Basketball     7.3 sec / 49.7% success rate  
  ESPN home     4.32 / 94.8%  
  CBS SportsLine NCAA Basketball     1.49 / 99%  
  CBS SportsLine home     1.22 / 99.2%  
  InsideHoops.com     2.35 / 99.4%  
  NCAA Basketball     8.14 / 99.7%  
  Yahoo NCAA Basketball     1.12 / 99.7%  
  Yahoo Sports     1.24 / 99.7%  
  Overall average for sites listed     3.4 / 92.6%  
* Performance measured daily from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. PST

Source: Keynote Systems

Other sites, such as CBS SportLine's NCAA site, InsideHoops.com, Yahoo's NCAA page and the NCAA's official Web site, fared better in terms of Web performance and availability. All of them had around a 99 percent success rate. However, the amount of time that a sports fan had to wait for the NCAA official site this week was 8.14 seconds to download. That compares with SportsLine's NCAA site at 1.49 seconds, Yahoo's page at 1.12 seconds, and InsideHoops.com at 2.35 seconds.

Each year, the NCAA Basketball Championships attract a huge crowd who follow 64 college basketball teams to the final round, known as the Final Four. As a result, the amount of traffic to sports sites during March Madness is not surprising. Some Web sites even offer their own polls and contests, including SportsLine and Easy Pool.

Yahoo and SportsLine said that because they expected to garner a huge audience, they were prepared with backup servers and other machines to handle the viewers.

"We've anticipated what the load will be and what the growth will be like," said Tonya Antonucci, director of production for Yahoo sports, news and weather. "We handled it accordingly with adding new machines into the rotation and balancing the load so that there are no slowdowns for the users when they come in--and that's been very successful for us."

San Francisco-based Quokka Sports also said it has not received reports of any problems since it launched the official Web site for the championship games. The site provides up-to-the minute images, news, statistics, commentary and perspectives from athletes and coaches, among other features.