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CBS eyes Net sports market

CBS Sports made its first venture onto the Net through a major deal with SportsLine USA to create CBS SportsLine.

CBS Sports made its first venture on to the Net today through a major deal with the online service SportsLine USA to create CBS SportsLine.

Under the five-year agreement, CBS will receive 22 percent of SportsLine equity and have the option to increase the holding up to 33 percent. The deal has been in the works for months, as previously reported by CNET.

Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports, would not say the company made a cash stake is SportsLine and disputed reports on the size of the investment: "There is not a $100 million cash investment. But it is fair to say the value of our advertising, content, and production support will well exceed $100 million in value over the next five years."

CBS is a bit late in the game for creating a sports Web site to complement its TV coverage, but SportsLine already has a stake in the market in competing with services like ESPNet SportsZone.

Both products illustrate broadcasting's serious leap onto the Web. ESPNet SportsZone is the major provider of sports information for the Microsoft Network and is developed by Starwave, which is owned by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen. ESPN is a subsidiary of Disney's Capital Cities/ABC, with the Hearst Corporation holding a 20 percent share.

CBS SportsLine is already live and plans to cover next week's NCAA men's basketball tournament and the Olympic Winter Games in Japan next year.

SportsLine receives between 1.3 million and 1.4 million page views a day, president and CEO of SportsLine Michael Levy said today.

"We expect the deal to quadruple those numbers over the next few months," he said. "We've expanded servers and our communication facilities. We're ready for the increased traffic, but we're going to watch it very closely."

SportsLine, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, launched on the Net in August of 1995. The company employs 160 people and was founded in 1994. For $39.95 a year or $4.95 a month, SportsLine offers emailed stories and other special content, but 90 percent of its services are free on the Web. They include college and professional sports news, statistics, and commentary from celebrity athlete chats.