ESPN Web site nets 7 new advertisers

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ESPN on Tuesday announced deals with seven new advertisers for its SportsZone World Wide Web site: Levi Strauss & Co., Pizza Hut, Visa International, New Balance, Lincoln-Mercury, Microsoft Corp. and Worlds Inc. The deals, sources said, are worth in excess of $1 million. The advertisers join Gatorade Co. as sponsors of SportsZone, one of the Web's most popular sites with more than 450,000 users per week.

The advertising community has criticized ESPN and its Web partner, Starwave Corp., for jacking up Web ad prices. ESPN charges advertisers $100,000 per quarter and $300,000 per year. Now, however, the criticism seems unwarranted.

"These guys [the new advertisers] are all paying the rate that everybody thinks is too high," said Rich LeFurgy, director of advertising at Starwave Corp., creator of ESPN's Web site. "These are major brands making a major commitment to the service."

Indeed, Levi Strauss bought more than one year of sponsorship of the ESPN site, said Tom Hagopian, ESPNet general manager. Gatorade earlier this year signed a one-year sponsorship deal.

Starwave attributes its success in signing advertisers to a unique "bridge" ad program under which the company will create content for the advertiser that resides on the SportsZone site but serves as a bridge to the advertiser's site.

"We're just a little farther along in how we're developing our packaging. The other guys [other Web media] are out there selling avails," Mr. LeFurgy said.

A Web-based survey done earlier this year found that 96% of SportsZone users are male, and 75% are between the ages of 18 and 34.

SportsZone offers a total of 25 ad sponsorships.

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