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SportsLine passes to Jordan

CBS Sportsline is going for a slam-dunk against other sports sites by securing an exclusive contract with Michael Jordan.

CBS SportsLine is trying for a slam-dunk in its competition against ESPN SportsZone and other online sports sites today by announcing a ten-year exclusive contract with basketball great Michael Jordan.

The Jordan contract gives SportsLine exclusive rights to the athlete's online activities. The site will host his official Web site, which will feature information about and some interaction with the superstar. He will be required to answer five emails per week and will give a monthly interview on SportsLine radio.

In return, the Chicago Bulls' front man will receive equity in the company and will share in the profits from advertising and merchandising. While Jordan will get no money up front, he is guaranteed an undisclosed minimum sum for the life of the contract. SportsLine is describing it as a seven-figure deal that could exceed $10 million.

Still, SportsLine still has some catching up to do. While no sports sites are turning a profit yet, SportsLine trails SportsZone in both revenue and traffic. The 3-year-old company, which has filed for an initial public offering, had revenues of $2.4 million last year and losses of $12.9 million, according to a regulatory filing.

Privately held Starwave, which coproduces SportsZone with cable's ESPN, does not disclose its revenues, but chairman and CEO Mike Slade estimated his site's business was two to three times bigger than SportsLine's in terms of revenue and traffic.

SportsLine reported 1.2 million daily page views in March, according to the filing, while a SportsZone spokeswoman said her site turned in 3.6 million page views per day for the same period.

Slade characterized his rival as the only other "serious sports site" online. But he dismissed the suggestion that the Jordan contract would pose a threat to ESPN's current online dominance.

"What drives traffic is news," he said. "How much news is there about Michael Jordan, say, today?"

SportsZone is structured around partnerships with the various sports leagues, including the NFL, NBA, and Nascar. SportsLine, by contrast, is more athlete-oriented, with sites devoted to 14 sports stars including Joe Montana, Monica Seles, and Shaquille O'Neal.

Kenneth Dotson, SportsLine vice president of marketing, defended the focus on single athletes, claiming that his site offered a unique opportunity for fans to interact with star players. He also refuted a report in the Wall Street Journal stating that information on the Shaquille O'Neal pages had not been updated since March. "The site is updated on a daily basis," he said.