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Original Issue

Early Foot In the first weeks of the season,'s innovations on have paid off for both sites

Like Rome, ESPN wasn't built in a day. The empire we know today
was seven years old and straining to make a profit in 1987 when
it entered TV sports' big leagues by acquiring rights to NFL
games. In May its seventh year of operation
and attracting two thirds the visitors of the sports leader on
the Web, hoping for a similar lift when its
parent, Inc., joined Viacom and AOL Time Warner
(SI's parent) in a successful $110 million bid for the rights to
produce for five years. "There's no question that we
made [producing] a target," says Joe Ferreira,'s vice president of programming.

The deal has helped both sites. This season has been
upgraded significantly. In addition to offering real-time scores
and statistics, and (unlike baseball and the NBA's official
sites) free links to the radio broadcasts of both teams involved
in any game, last week introduced live play-by-play.
Another of the site's play-by-play features, the
statistics-laden GameDay Live!, requires the Shockwave 8.5
plug-in; we found it fun, though sometimes frustratingly slow to
load. Not unexpectedly, there isn't much hard-edged journalism
on a site owned by the league, but the home page
includes links to stories that can be less than

The most recent Nielsen Net Ratings of sports sites--for the week
ending on Sept. 30--showed, with 1.86 million
unique visitors (defined as those viewing the site one or more
times), surging ahead of third-place (1.54 million) and
finishing second, to (2.05 million).'s
number of visitors may grow in the next Nielsen Net Ratings,
because on Oct. 7 the NFL site matched its biggest Sunday to
date, with 2.2 million unique visitors.

--John O'Keefe