SBJ/April 30-May 6, 2012/Media

NBC’s digital rivals line up with their own London 2012 sites

Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

NBC may own the rights to the Olympic rings, but that won’t stop its competitors from snagging some of the network’s digital audience and advertising dollars.

FoxSports.com, Sports Illustrated, USA Today Sports Media Group and Yahoo! Sports have all rolled out London 2012 websites and editorial content.

“It’s a great event, and it’s the biggest opportunity to showcase your site and add audience,” said Dave Morgan, USA Today Sports Media Group’s senior vice president of content and editor-in-chief.

FoxSports.com is preparing its most extensive Olympic coverage.
This year may provide the best chance for non-rights holders to snag digital dollars that brands and media buyers are devoting to the Olympics. For the first time, NBC required advertisers to buy TV time in order to be able to buy digital advertising on NBCOlympics.com. For advertisers that want to be affiliated with the Games but don’t want to buy TV time on NBC, Olympic coverage on the sites of ESPN, Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, USA Today and Yahoo! Sports offers the next best thing. Unlike NBC, those outlets aren’t limited by IOC rules that limit sponsors’ branding to a certain percentage of an official partner’s Web page.

IOC sponsor P&G already has committed to advertise on Yahoo!, while U.S. Olympic Committee sponsors Citi and DeVry have bought advertising with Fox Sports, and non-Olympic sponsor Lexus is advertising with Sports Illustrated.

Yahoo!’s approach to the Olympics in recent years has become a blueprint of sorts for the entire industry. The company hired writers and developed dedicated sports pages filled with original content during the 2006 Torino Games. The effort delivered more unique visitors to Yahoo! than NBC-Olympics.com attracted, according to comScore Media Metrix. This summer Yahoo! will build on that by taking its strategy international. It will customize content for 25 countries in dozens of languages and offer it on Yahoo! portals around the globe.

“We have dominated the last few Olympics, but we haven’t put these things together holistically as a company before,” said Ken Fuchs, the company’s head of sports, entertainment and games.

As Yahoo! did in 2006, FoxSports.com is preparing its most extensive coverage of the Olympics. Last May, MSN approached Fox because it wanted to “go big” on the Games, said Marla Newman, Fox Sports senior vice president of digital sales. Fox-Sports.com responded. It launched a special site last week devoted to the London Games. Fox has told advertisers that it expects 40 million unique visitors during the Games.

Sports Illustrated took a more official approach to its Olympic coverage and sales than competitors. It signed an agreement with the USOC making it a preferred advertising outlet for USOC sponsors. It will roll out an iPad app, unrelated to its USOC deal, called “Live from London” that is sponsored by Lexus.

USA Today’s effort is spearheaded by Morgan, who worked at Yahoo! from 2006 to 2011. A total of 80 people will be working for Gannett on the Olympics. The staff will contribute to Gannett’s 81 newspapers, 24 TV stations and 500 websites. It will publish an Olympic preview in July and produce a daily sports section in London throughout the Games.

For its part, ESPN says it plans to treat the Olympics online and on mobile the same way it treats other big sporting events to which it does not hold the media rights. ESPN believes it has become the default digital home for any live sporting event, whether it is on ESPN or not.

“It’s not different from what you would normally expect from ESPN,” said John Kosner, ESPN Digital Media senior vice president and general manager.

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