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Extreme sports sites take advertising road less traveled

Renegade teen-age athletes are among the toughest groups to target with advertising. But Extreme Sports producer Alan Gibby believes he has the answer: Ban the banner ads.

Renegade teen-age athletes, with their bedraggled clothes, backward caps and big attitudes, are among the toughest groups to target with advertising. But Extreme Sports producer Alan Gibby believes he has the answer: Ban the banner ads.

When Gibby's company officially opens its site in February, there will be no such advertisements screaming across the tops of its pages.

"The kids perceive banner ads as a sellout," Gibby said. "We want to make sure to provide a clean site with no sellout--no banners to slow down the ability to surf."

Sponsor packages that feature popular athletes along with product giveaways and other familiar merchandise logos will be discretely placed somewhere on the site, "completely separated from any editorial content," he said, without elaborating on the advertising plan.

Extreme Sports appeals to young people between the ages of 8 and 25, members of so-called Generation Y, who are interested in risky sports like acrobatic skateboarding and motorbiking.

Its business strategy may be the way other online companies are headed.

Quokka.com, another outside-the-mainstream sports site, doesn't allow banner advertisements either. Instead, the three-year-old San Francisco company allows sales pitches throughout its Web site in storytelling form.

"We sell the clients' stories in our sports content," said David Riemer, vice president of marketing at Quokka--a company whose offerings include coverage of sailing events like the America's Cup and mountain-climbing expeditions.

For example, when a user clicks on the Computer Associates icon tucked to the top right side of Quokka's site, the following message appears: "Hanging upside down from a cave roof. Flying from rail to rail in high seas. Swimming in New York's Hudson River. Whatever you do for kicks, you make sure it's safe...We can't protect you wherever you go, but we can help protect you online. Computer Associates works with businesses large and small to ensure the Web is a safe place for e-commerce."

The user then has the option of clicking on safety tips for sports or computer use.

"Commercial material and content have already been colliding," Riemer said. "The key to it is being up front about it."

Banner ads, however, still have a strong presence in the Internet world and will likely stick around for some time, said Lyn Chitow-Oakes, chief operating officer of Flycast Communications, a firm that deals in online advertisements. Chitow-Oakes says banners are effective and don't blur the age-old barrier between editorial and marketing.

"You can either click on the banner and get the information or not," she said. "It's like a television commercial; you can sit there and watch it or walk into the kitchen and get a glass of water."