Fox Sports is planning an assault on the leaders of online sports--ESPN SportsZone and CBS SportsLine--with a relaunch of its Web site and an aggressive integrated advertising strategy at the end of August.
After focusing first on its news and entertainment sites, "sports is the great opportunity left in the Internet content space" for News America Digital Publishing, said James Murdoch, president of the News Corp. unit. "We have an incredible sports brand in Fox Sports ... We want to be No. 1 or No. 2."
He wouldn't disclose how much News Corp. is investing in the relaunch.
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The redesigned Fox Sports site includes a layout that will place its navigation bar at the top of the screen along with scrolling scores, and will move stories to the bottom frame. The look of the site more closely mirrors the graphics of Fox Sports' TV broadcasts.
Fox Sports is also adding the ability for advertisers to place a button on the top bar that, when clicked, launches advertising content into the bottom frame without making the user leave the site.
"Fox is behind the eight ball in terms of well-branded sports sites already out there," said Patrick Keane, an analyst with Jupiter Communications. "That means they have to move more aggressively if they want to succeed."
ESPN SportsZone and CBS SportsLine often show up as the top two sites in most online audience measurement surveys. In Media Metrix's June report, ESPN SportsZone was ranked No. 1 with at-home users, with a 3.8% reach or 1.5 million unique users, followed by CBS SportsLine, with a 3.1% reach or 1.3 million unique users. Fox Sports trailed far behind with only a 0.3% reach or about 121,000 unique users.
In ad revenue, SportsZone and SportsLine were ranked among the top 20 sites by InterMedia Advertising Solutions; Fox Sports' site didn't appear in the top 50.
Jupiter's Mr. Keane said he believes the keys to Fox Sports' online success will be its ability to leverage its video and audio capabilities online, and to develop a strong off-line marketing push to draw consumer interest.
As part of its new strategy, Fox Sports plans to sell cross-media ad packages and to go beyond traditional online banner advertising.
"As a media company, we should have as big a kit bag as possible," Mr. Murdoch said.
Advertisers already signing up for the new integrated strategy include Puma, which has inked a six-figure deal; and E*Trade, already a large sponsor on other Fox sites. The Puma deal followed a successful World Cup campaign for the athletic apparel marketer that included a promotion in News Corp.-owned U.K. newspapers, a co-branded site and a contest.
"This is the only way we're selling now," said Matthew Jacobson, exec VP-sales and marketing, News America Digital Publishing. "We'll be happy to sell you banners, but our core is selling more than that."
Copyright August 1998, Crain Communications Inc.