TRIBUNE SWINGS FOR FENCES WITH SPORTS SITE

By: Jason Williams

ChicagoSports.com To Make Debut This Spring



Da Bears, da Bulls, not to mention the Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks, and
Fire: Chicago is a town for sports, and Tribune Interactive (TI) hopes
it’s a town of Web-surfing sports fans.



TI’s ChicagoSports.com, a comprehensive Windy City sports Web site, is
set to launch this spring, and TI executives are calling it a model of
things to come. ChicagoSports.com will be an independent site that
replaces chicagotribune.com’s regular sports pages but links to
chicagotribune.com, much like TI’s Metromix.com entertainment Web site.



The site will feature in-depth and up-to-date coverage of all
professional, college, and prep sports teams in the Chicago area and
real-time scores and results. It also will sell tickets and exclusive
Chicago sports memorabilia, and provide other e-commerce capabilities.



The former staff of chicagotribune.com’s sports pages will be producing
ChicagoSports.com and providing original content. In addition, content
will be gathered from Tribune Co.’s various media outlets: the Chicago
Tribune, WGN-TV, WGN-AM, CLTV, and the Chicago Cubs Web site.



Formerly sports editor of chicagotribune.com Chris Malcolm has been
named executive producer of the new site. ‘It’s a little bit of a
cosmetic change, and at the same time a big change in the kind of
content we’ll be doing,’ he says.



Malcolm believes ChicagoSports.com is a natural progression of the Web
as a news medium, bridging the coverage gap by providing the news that
happens throughout the morning and day before the press runs and 11
o’clock TV reports.



‘With our focus on breaking news, we provide consumers with the
deepest, most trusted local content by leveraging our journalistic
strengths – creating communities of interest online and opening the
door to contextual commerce – like no one else can,’ says Jeff Scherb,
president of TI.



In addition to the content, TI Director of Communications Rashmi Turner
believes the potential e-commerce applications make the site unique.
‘Specific exclusive auction items, team merchandise … Sammy Sosa
autographed baseballs, win-a-day-at-the-ballpark-with-the-coaches, no
one else is going to be able to get that for you,’ Turner says.



At the same time, Malcolm says, commerce won’t dictate coverage. ‘For
us, it really hasn’t been a concern because the way we decide what we
cover and the way we cover things in general is to meet the needs of
the readers. It may sound somewhat pious, but it’s true,’ Malcolm says.
‘We’re not going to write stories to move tchotchkes.’



(A sports news site called Sportcut.com briefly considered letting
reporters collect memorabilia from sports players being interviewed,
but the site nixed the policy after an uproar of complaints.)



And it appears TI may have its ‘sites’ set on two more megasports
cities, Los Angeles and New York. Given Tribune Co.’s recent plans to
merge with Times Mirror Co., TI may create similar sports Web sites in
L.A. and New York, using the local-market coverage in Times Mirror’s
L.A. Times and Long Island, N.Y., Newsday, along with that of its other
area media properties.



‘It’s definitely a model for synergies in terms of content creation
being targeted against an audience, great promotion, assets across our
properties, as well as sales opportunity. And it’s definitely a model
for something that we could carry to other markets,’ Turner says. ‘I
would say that it’s going to be be much more possible now, once the
merger is closed, because of all the assets that we would actually own
in the other markets.’



These assets also would make promotion for the sites a whole lot more
cost-effective. TI began a $4-million ad campaign in both Tribune and
non-Tribune properties today to support the launch of
ChicagoSports.com, calling it the ‘prototype for a broad, post-merger
effort across markets.’



TI’s push for local, niche content sites tied heavily to e-commerce,
such as ChicagoSports.com and the Go2Orlando.com travel site, mirrors
America Online’s Digital City push, an operation in which TI has
invested. AOL recently announced Digital City 2000, an upgrade of the
current Digital City network, including an increase from 60 markets to
more than 200 nationally, which has newspapers a bit nervous.



‘With Digital City, America Online Inc., the leading interactive
service in the world, is also going to be the leading service in
consumers’ own neighborhoods,’ says Ted Leonsis, president of AOL
Interactive Properties.



‘It’s so much more than the newspaper,’ Turner says. ‘You’ve got the
depth of the newspaper, and the immediacy of broadcasts, and online.’
She believes that the wealth of really good sports media outlets makes
a symbiotic synergy possible. ‘You can’t really roll those together
into our newspaper site. That doesn’t make sense,’ says Turner. ‘So by
pulling all these things together you get a combination of content from
all sorts of different properties that live in a different space, which
is what ChicagoSports.com is about.’



Malcolm agrees, but insists that there will always be those who will
want their Chicago Tribune newspaper. ‘The good newspaper sites are the
ones that recognize what people want above and beyond a newspaper – and
then try and augment it,’ Malcolm says.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



Jason Williams (jwilliams@editorandpublisher.com) is the new-media
reporter for Editor & Publisher magazine.









(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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