SBJ/August 21 - 27, 2006/Media

AOL, Beckett roll out answers to MySpace

AIM Pages is starting with the Redskins.
Beckett Media has launched FanSpot.
AOL Inc. and Beckett Media LP this month have each launched online social-networking destinations designed to capture a share of that developing marketplace.

AIM Pages, AOL’s self-proclaimed answer to MySpace, is still in a beta-test mode, but the company recently struck a deal with the Washington Redskins, headquartered less than a mile from AOL in Northern Virginia, to serve as a content anchor for the venture.

AOL will develop personal profile pages for individual members of the Redskins organization ranging from players to staffers. Cheerleader pages have been created first, as the roster for that squad has been set for the season. Individual fans can also use the AIM Page module to create their own pages. Similar to MySpace, these personal profile pages can be steadily updated with text, photos and links to news stories and other content, serving as a basis for user discussion.

AOL is now pursuing other content partnerships with sports properties, including the WNBA and several NASCAR drivers.

In the Redskins deal, AOL did not pay an upfront licensing fee to the club for the use of team marks, but the company will support the venture with an undisclosed marketing budget, in effect helping to propagate the Redskins brand. The team, in turn, will provide links to the AIM Pages from its main site, redskins.com.

The move follows AOL’s recent announcement that it would offer virtually all of its content and software for free online.

“As we hit the open Web, we’re really trying to crank up the engagement,” said Neal Scarbrough, AOL general manager and editor for sports.

In a parallel venture, AOL plans a dramatic redesign of its top Division I college and pro football team pages. Previously a relatively static outpost of basic scores, statistics and news, the new team sites will be staffed with bloggers to provide ongoing commentary.

Beckett Media, publisher of numerous books and magazines devoted to sports collectibles, meanwhile, is pursuing a similar strategy, with FanSpot.com.

The core of FanSpot is similar to that of AOL’s AIM Pages or other social-networking sites: people creating personal pages and uploading content that will create traffic and conversation. FanSpot, however, seeks to go another step with its Challenge application. The FanSpot Challenges create a direct means for fans to test each other’s sports knowledge and make low-stakes, nonmonetary bets.

Like AOL, Beckett officials said the move was a necessity. Peter Gudmundsson, Beckett Media chief executive, said he is aiming for significant traffic routed through Beckett’s various magazine sites, which collectively draw more than 1 million unique visitors per month.

“The collectibles industry is in a down period … and in order for us to grow, we have to look at other areas,” Gudmundsson said. “Collectibles, at their core, are about involvement and participation. That essentially is what FanSpot is after, too. This will hopefully be an exercise in empowerment. Other sites are more or less trying to get people reacting to content they’re developing, coming in with a decidedly top-down approach. We see ourselves instead as more of a barkeep.”

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