wall street journal

Are These Sports Sites Turkeys or Gifts?

David Sweet

david sweet

By David Sweet

The turkey is finally digested. Memories of Uncle Frank’s Thanksgiving political rant — his rage intensifying when he spilled sweet potatoes on his lap — are fading.

Christmas beckons, but avoid that lengthy shopping list for now. It’s time to enjoy Hits and Misses.

HIT: Major League Baseball’s Web site for educating voters. Both Al Gore and George W. Bush answered a host of baseball questions– for instance, whether Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams was the better ballplayer.

Asked how to bridge the revenue gap between big- and small-market clubs, Mr. Gore, who touted the size of his 191-page economic plan during the campaign, offered an 85-word answer. Mr. Bush simply wrote, “More revenue sharing.”

The candidates, whose answers first appeared in the official World Series magazine, found common ground in only one area: both agreed throwing out a player at home plate would be the most exciting finish to a World Series game. They were not asked whether dimpled All-Star votes should be tabulated.

MISS: NBCOlympics.com for being frozen in time. Though the Sydney Games were completed two months ago, the site, a venture of NBC and Quokka Sports Inc., maintains a large picture of Marion Jones and aging Summer Olympic coverage.

Web surfers fascinated by old swimming highlights will find a home here. But fans of Olympic ice hockey and bobsledding must venture to the 2002 Winter Games official site, http://www.saltlake2002.com/ (also run by Quokka).

NBC executive Kevin Monaghan says Salt Lake content will begin flowing in January.

“They [NBC/Quokka Ventures staffers] took a well-deserved post-Sydney break and are currently scrutinizing the content, production and sales plans for both NBCOlympics.com and SaltLake2002.com,” he notes.

Writes Jupiter Research analyst Robert Hertzberg: “In not extending the productive life of NBCOlympics.com [immediately following the Games], NBC violated a tenet that its news division knows well — milk a programming asset for all it’s worth.”

Speaking of assets, Quokka stock continued its grim slide Tuesday, dropping 12% to $1.38 in 4 p.m. trading on Nasdaq and hitting a 52-week intraday low.

HIT: Britannica.com for explaining Dennis Miller. Since the Monday Night Football announcer’s comments usually soar over Joe Sixpack’s head, the site has created “The Annotated Dennis Miller” to explain his obscure references weekly.

Regarding the ease of being a St. Louis Ram punter, Mr. Miller chimed, “That’s like playing triangle with K.C. and the Sunshine Band.” Even Britannica.com was baffled, invoking TV’s Tracy Partridge in trying to explain the above Millerism.

HIT: A little-known site for listing top baseball heckles. “I’ve seen better swings on a porch!” and “You couldn’t drive home Miss Daisy!” are a few of the wittier comments posted at https://www.heckledepot.com/. Though some rants are weak enough to make one cringe (“I’ve seen snakes with better hands!”), big-league insults can be entertaining.

When Chicago Cub fans wore T-shirts showing Chicago White Sox slugger Frank “Big Hurt” Thomas wearing a skirt (“Big Skirt”) to games, the veteran admitted, “This is getting on my nerves.” By the time the series was over, though, Mr. Thomas had been motivated sufficiently to extend his hitting streak to 19 games.

MISS: The Web site of the Los Angeles Times for counting troubles. Knowing the popularity of the USC-UCLA rivalry, the sports section posted the scores and stories from football games during the 1990s. For the 1992 link, the score read UCLA 38, USC 27. After clicking on it, a new score appeared above the headline: UCLA 31, USC 23. Only below the headline did the proper score finally emerge: UCLA 38, USC 37.

HIT: ESPN.com for running SportsCenter ads. These short pieces, which are shown on the Web even before they debut on television, are cult favorites. Unlike the SportsCenter show itself, no viewer knows when TV ads are running. Compiling them in one spot lets fans watch them at their leisure and provides an inexpensive way to boost SportsCenter.

HIT:NBA.com for telling it like it is. League sites are notoriously skittish about reporting bad news. But on Monday, an eye-catching red headline distinguished itself among the blue ones atop the National Basketball Association’s home page: “Sonics Fire Westphal.”

Granted, the story — focusing on interim coach Nate “Mr. Sonic” McMillan — read like a press release, but the fact that NBA.com even drew attention to a firing is news in itself.

HIT: The Sporting News Online for its weekly National Football League matchups. Posted by Tuesday evening, the breakdowns include why to watch, key individual matchups and keys for success. Want a quick look at who should win the Minnesota-Detroit game? The site provides a checklist showing which team is better at quarterback, in the secondary and other spots. Rabid fantasy players can check “Fantasy Flash” for guidance.

MISS: David Sweet of WSJ.com for an error in the Nov. 22 columnon the XFL. Contrary to the claim that none of the four major U.S. sport league sites sell tickets, one can buy seats for National Basketball Association games through NBA.com.

Write to David Sweet at david.sweet@wsj.com