SPORT SITES COMPETE FOR DOLLARS;SPORTSLINE USA JOINS ONLINE FRAY WITH CATEGORY-THEME SPONSORSHIPS

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Sportsline usa, upstart competitor to the ESPN Web juggernaut, is angling to compete on the ad front as well.

Sportsline this week makes its first push for advertising, hawking deals that range from a $10,000 monthly banner ad to a $180,000 annual contest sponsorship.

The twist: category, or "arena," sponsorships that tie the advertiser's name with content, like Federal Express is linked to the Orange Bowl.

"What we're talking about is much more like a sponsorship than an ad opportunity," said Andrew Sturner, VP-business development. "What the advertiser gets is ownership-real equity in a portion of the site."

Already in its pocket: Delta Air Lines, which bought a six-month arena sponsorship, although it reportedly paid well below the $78,000 rate card.

Modem Media, Westport, Conn., Delta's interactive agency, declined to comment on the price.

Sportsline (http://www.sportsline.com) also is talking to General Motors Corp.'s Oldsmobile, AT&T, Valvoline Co. and Anheuser-Busch Cos., Mr. Sturner said.

Sportsline, developed by entrepreneur Michael Levy and backed by deep-pocketed venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, has cobbled together a range of content from wire services and nationally known sportswriters. It's also gotten a lot of mileage from celebrity spokesmen Joe Namath and Bob Costas.

The site recorded an unaudited 350,000 visits in December, according to the rate card. Mr. Sturner said he expects to sign with Internet Profiles Corp. soon.

In comparison, ESPN's site (http://espnet.sportszone.com) reports more than 650,000 users per week. Ad packages range from $37,500 for a one-month rotation to $300,000 for a full year.

ESPN is considering offering advertisers category sponsorships, said Rich LeFurgy, VP-director of advertising and product marketing at Starwave Corp., ESPN's Web partner.

"We're very clear about separation between advertising and editorial," Mr. LeFurgy said. "We want to make sure there's credibility this is coming from ESPNet SportsZone and not the advertiser."

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