MEDIA COVERAGE
 
 
Sunday Herald Sun - May 21 00
Sport in web's sights
 
Melburnian Chris Hume is spearheading a multi-million-dollar push for the online sports market in Australia. Mr Hume, 32, is Australasian CEO of Sportal, a worldwide organisation which aims to be a one-stop-shop for sport on the Web.

Sportal is short for sports portal. A portal is a gateway to information on the Internet. Some are built around search engines, others around news or cities and the newest breed around sport.

As technologies converge, new companies such as Sportal and Sportsview (Eddie Macguire and Steve Vizard) will compete with TV and other media companies for rights.

People anywhere in the world will be able to pay a few dollars to watch their favourite team live. Australian industry analysts say AFL webcasting rights could soon be worth $50 million a year.

Mr Hume said Sportal would bid to broadcast AFL audio and video live on the Internet when TV rights are renegotiated next year. He said 22 per cent of families in the United States followed sport on the Internet, but this was only the start.

Forrester research estimates advertising on sports-related websites will be worth $4.2 billion worldwide by 2004. Major sports leagues expected to draw 15 per cent of their revenue from online activities soon, Mr Hume said.

Rob Hersov, 40, son of South African mining magnate, launched Sportal with $12 million in 1997. He raised $120 million last year to expand his dream internationally. The company, worth about $300 million, plans to float in Britain later this year and has not ruled out a float in Australia.

"Rob's vision was to consolidate a fragmented online sports market in Europe," Mr Hume said, "We are well on the way to achieving that."

"We are trying to create one super website you can go to for all your sporting needs."

Selling sports goods is also part of the long-term plan. Forrester predicts sports-related e-commerce will grow to $8.2 billion by 2004.

To acheive advertising and e-commerce sales, Sportal needs regular readers. And where surfers go, dollars follow. It is believed major sponsors pay up to $100,000 a page to advertise on drawcard websites such as that of Italian soccer club, Juventus, which attracts up to two million hits a week.

Sportal plans to lure Australian sports fans with interactive games, sports chat, tipping competitions an information, including match reports, photo galleries, features and statistics.

Its content strategy is three-pronged:
·Grassroots content for organizations such as the Victorian Cricket Association, which has 117,000 registered players and 1258 clubs.

·Franchises, such as the Australasian PGA golf tour. Sportal has already signed deals to manage the websites of European teams including AC Milan, Juventus and Real Madrid.

·Sportal’s sports channel with reporting on all sports. The company has kicked this off with Aussie football coverage in conjunction with Telstra.

"We will be rolling that out with rugby league, rugby union, soccer, golf, tennis and cricket over the coming months," Mr Hume said, "Motor racing, horse racing and extreme sports will follow later in the year."

Sportal this week launched a major soccer website with SBS - www.theworldgame.com.au

It will carry results, live scores, photo galleries, ladders, match reports and statistics. SBS presenters and former Socceroo star Robbie Slater will write weekly columns. Sportal has also paid millions of dollars to be made one of the 12 official sponsors of the Euro 2000 soccer tournament.

"Its the third most watched event in the world after the Olympics and the World Cup," Mr Hume said, "It's our big push to become a household name."

Sportal sees having its news network as a vital maket edge, but it is not a cheap one. Each website within Sportal has two dedicated journalists and a producer.

The company has six full-time staff based at South Yarra, 15 freelance workers and six outsourced technology staff. It recently opened an office in Sydney and plans to hire another 12 producers and reporters over the next few weeks.

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