Sports Web Sites Hit the DustPublished April 16, 2001 in The Post-Standard.
By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer
The home page of Running.com carried an ominous notice: "Running.com will be closing soon". The notice might as well have read: "The Internet will be closing soon." The news was equally grim for a myriad of sports web sites that flashed during the dot com boom of yesteryear, only to crash in the dot com doom of today.
The Internet coined the nineties as the information decade, bringing a wealth of information to the masses. Originally intended to exchange research data, the Internet became an all-encompassing medium. Many entrepreneurs sought and found fortunes, yet the Internet failed to reach the status as the fourth medium.
For example, the Syracuse University track and field program led the nation in developing a home page six years ago. Created and maintained by student-athletes, the home page reflected the sweat and love of its editors. Today, the official web site of the track and field program drowns in the mass production of commercial interest.
As colleges scurried after the illusive e-dollar, and dot com companies bilked investors dreaming of fast riches, hundreds of sports web sites sprouted promising an out-of-body viewing experience. Fueled by spontaneous advertising and "irrational exuberance", they spent a fortune on perfecting the impersonal look and sterile feel of an electronic morgue.
This e-morgue is brimming to capacity, as high-flying dot com's hit the ground in a splash. The Rivals.com network with "over 600 sports sites to choose from" stopped paying its bills. The TotalSports Network was saved from bankruptcy by Quokka Sports, then left to face its destiny alone. Quokka Sports failed to deliver on the Olympic promise, and saw its stock tumble from 19 dollars to 6 cents, and the ticker goes on.
What went wrong? To paraphrase a famous political saying, "it's the content, stupid." The thousands of web sites cramming the proverbial e-morgue suffered of the same deadly disease of hypo-content. When was the last time you watched Syracuse's Allison Culley run on the web or checked the splits of Michelle LaPointe?
Many running web sites survived the devastation of this e-winter by providing useful content. Local clubs and road races that cater to their runners have seen increased traffic and repeat customers. Those who dreamed of an advertising windfall were all but disappointed.
With fewer scavengers remaining in the battle for online content, sports programming has an excellent chance of defining the fourth medium. Track and field will again play a leading role for obvious reasons: a rich content that exceeds television capacity, a sophisticated audience that eludes the XFL, and a rare affinity between athletes and spectators.
The future of e-running is bright. In two years, I foresee hundreds of dignified web sites that offer registration and results, course maps and training tips, race videos and pictures, and plenty of stories of the people and the places that shaped the history of running.
Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created TrackMeets.com, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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