SBJ/May 28 - June 3, 2001/E Sports

Vulcan still has an interest (literally) in Sandbox after buying Small World

The purchase of Small World Media by Vulcan Ventures leaves only one large independent fantasy-game site and developer, Sandbox.com, long the traffic leader among independents.

The acquisition by Vulcan, which owns The Sporting News and plans to incorporate Small World's products into sportingnews.com along with The Sporting News' print and radio products, brings up a curious situation: Vulcan is also a minority investor in Sandbox.

Sporting News executives referred questions to Vulcan, and Vulcan executives were not available for comment on the arrangement or on whether Vulcan considered buying Sandbox instead.

Small World CEO Mark Jacobstein, who will become vice president and general manager of fantasy sports at The Sporting News, would say only that Vulcan's investment in Sandbox.com "was not a consideration in their assessment of Small World."

When asked if the deal would compromise Sandbox, Sandbox CEO Larry Cotter said, "We feel this is actually a great thing for us," but declined to elaborate. The deal does potentially eliminate one of Sandbox's competitors in the work-for-hire business, as it appears The Sporting News' focus will be on integrating Small World into its own media.

At the same time, The Sporting News expects to leverage Small World's 2.8 million registered users for the kind of direct-marketing work that makes up the bulk of Sandbox's revenue.

Cotter did not comment on this topic, but the deal also leaves Sandbox as easily the most attractive acquisition target for other media companies that might want to add fantasy to their assets.

Small World's games will continue to run under the current brand but will gradually be branded as The Sporting News', Jacobstein said. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Small World was formed in 1996 and has just more than 20 employees, all of whom will be retained to work out of Small World's New York office. The company had more than 100 employees last year, as it had plans for games of all kinds in multiple languages and on multiple platforms. "That was maybe a bridge too far," Jacobstein said.

 NUMBERS GAME: General sports sites saw their traffic drop in April, after the heavy NCAA basketball tournament traffic of March, but in year-over-year numbers, espn.com and sportingnews.com showed significant gains. It appears these two sites may be picking up the traffic available after the shuttering of Broadband Sports, Rivals.com and Quokka Sports/Total Sports since February.

ESPN.com jumped 17 percent in April, compared with the same month a year ago, and sportingnews.com jumped 64 percent, although it remains the fourth-most-trafficked general sports site. The advance comes amid a general push at The Sporting News to increase metrics: the magazine will increase its rate base in July to 600,000, from 525,000, and Sporting News Radio has seen its average quarter-hour listenership increase to 720,000 from 645,000 since the acquisition of One-on-One Sports in November, according to President Jim Nuckols.

House properties NFL Internet Group, mlb.com and pgatour.com showed significant gains; pgatour.com's gain of 115 percent is most notable, as it comes without the aid of rolling up sites into a network, as Major League Baseball and the NFL have done with their teams.

  TEAMWORK ADDS NHL: TeamWork Online, the online job-recruitment arm of TeamWork Consulting, has added the NHL to its client list. NHL.com is posting job openings for several teams and is making the service available to all teams, according to Buffy Fillipell, president of TeamWork Consulting.

TeamWork Online licenses the job-board and human-resources software on a flat-fee basis to its clients, which include MLS, the NBA, the Staples Center and the NFL expansion Houston Texans.

Jobs posted on nhl.com include director of sponsorship sales for the San Jose Sharks and accounts payable supervisor for the Boston Bruins.

  MY SPORTSLINE IS BACK: SportsLine.com's My SportsLine feature has added 95,000 users in the 10 weeks since it was relaunched. The feature, which allows users to customize the information served to their browsers, had generated 130,000 users in its first three years, before an overhaul in early March.

The overhaul added components such as scoreboards for leagues like MLS and NFL Europe, which are not included on the SportsLine.com home page, and a "columnist tool" that serves up new work by users' favorite columnists. In the works are a multimedia component users can employ to organize and store favorite audio and video clips; a stock ticker and ski reports.

Noah Liberman can be reached at nliberman@amcity.com.

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