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Fox Sports Online beefs up

Just in time for football season, Fox Sports Online is planning to kick off a newly designed site, in an effort to keep its rank in the online sports field.

Just in time for football season, Fox Sports Online is planning to kick off a newly designed site, in an effort to keep its rank in the crowded but lucrative online sports field.

The site, set to launch Monday, incorporates new features and functionality such as analysis from on-air commentators, customizable score boards, and real-time game information, according to News America Digital Publishing, which produces and operates the site. It also offers fans the ability to get local content--or content for a desired region--by asking for their zip codes and customizing the home page with information about games and teams within that region.

The updated site also features a Java-enabled scores "ticker," similar to what financial sites offer for stocks. Users that click on the ticker get a menu of options that allows them to choose which game results they want to see on the ticker, the company said.

Along with the host of established sports players on the Web, lately heavy hitters such as Yahoo have beefed up their sports offerings, attempting to compete with established sports players with treats such as free fantasy sports leagues. Sports have proven to be a lucrative area on the Web, with loyal fans visiting sites frequently. And add-ons such as fantasy leagues bring in both subscription fees and traffic for sports sites.

But News America senior vice president and executive producer Scott Ehrlich said today that Fox Sports Online considers ESPN SportsZone its "only competition."

"Yahoo can't do the kind of unique programming SportsZone or Fox Sports can do," he said. "At the end of the day, they don't have the original content."

Fox has been an aggressive player in the online space, with its news site offering such add-ons as customizable video newscasts.

Ehrlich said the sports site is planning to add video content in the future.

"In order to make a feature like that really robust, you have to have a pretty extensive video library," he said, noting that although Fox plans to show video content such as interviews and features it produces for television, it won't be able to broadcast game highlights online.

"The leagues have prohibited Web sites from making available any video whatsoever that contains clips of their games," Ehrlich said. He noted that the NFL, the NBA, and others license the game clips to television stations for free, with some conditions, and in doing so lost a substantial revenue channel.

According to Ehrlich, the NBA does offer Web sites the opportunity to license game highlights, but "they charge an astronomical fee." He also said Major League Baseball "is changing its tune in that direction" as well.

Notably, the TV stations only have to compete with each other to gain the right to broadcast games. Online, it is a different story. Most sports leagues also have sites of their own, a strategy with which Ehrlich disagrees.

"I don't think NFL.com should exist," he said. "Are you a league or are you a news provider? I don't think the league should be in the sports news business."

Still, Fox Sports Online planned its update to coincide with the beginning of football season. Another new feature on the site is GameTracker, which shows real-time coverage of games via a "graphical simulation of the playing field," according to News America Digital Publishing. Along with the game coverage itself, the site will offer pregame information such as player statistics, stadium profiles, injury reports, and weather; in-game coverage including play-by-play and "real-time drive charts"; and post-game data such as scoring summaries, the firm said.

News America Digital Publishing, the online arm of media giant News Corporation's News America Publishing Group, operates the company's Web sites, which also include Fox News Online and the TV Guide Entertainment Network.