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WSJ enters online sports fray

Breaking its hardcore financial news mold, the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition gears up its sports section through a deal with Total Sports.

    Breaking its hardcore financial news mold, the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition beefed up its sports section today, adding 24-hour coverage and game statistics through a deal with Total Sports.

    The Interactive Journal's enhanced sports area enters one of the Web's most competitive and lucrative content arenas. CBS SportsLine and ESPN SportsZone have been battling for sports enthusiasts' loyalty with features such as news, real-time scores, live audio coverage of games, and celebrity athlete chats. This summer, Time Warner jumped into the ring with CNN/SI.com.

    Investing in better sports coverage marks a move by the Interactive Journal's owner, Dow Jones, to reel in a broader audience using the Web. The print version has taken similar, but smaller steps, with special coverage of the Olympics and Super Bowl and by recently adding TV listings.

    "I call the Wall Street Journal a data and business publication--and sports is a business," said online industry analyst Gary Arlen, who is president of Arlen Communications. "This whole media business is about owning eyeballs. With this change, Dow Jones has finally figured out that customers come to you for a variety information needs, even more so in cyberspace."

    The Interactive Journal is in a good position to pitch new content because it already has a dedicated audience, Arlen noted. Charging $29 to $49 for annual subscriptions, the Interactive Journal has roped in more than 100,000 paid subscribers.

    Like most of its sports media rivals, who charge various fees for select content, the Interactive Journal's new sports section includes "near real-time" scores and results for professional and college sports, up-to-date team standings and player statistics, special coverage of major sporting events, and columns and features about the sports business world.

    "Interactive Journal readers expect a remarkable degree of depth and timeliness in their sports news as well as their business news," Neil Budde, the Interactive Journal's editor said in a statement. "This new sports section will provide an ideal way to follow nearly any breaking sports story as well as real statistical depth for the avid fan."

    The Interactive Journal also generates revenue from advertising, but some online analysts say it will have a hard time garnering traffic from the three leading sports sites.

    "It's going to be hard for them to compete with the ESPN SportsZone, CBS SportsLine, and CNN/SI. They're also all attacking the same potential advertising pool," said Patrick Keane, Jupiter Communications' lead analyst on a new online sports report.

    "In general, all sites are trying to branch out and become one-stop destination sites," he added. "Maybe some readers will get scores from the [Interactive] Journal, but it won't be a major sports destination site."