Net Destinations: Super Bowl XXXIII
By Jonathan Oatis NEW YORK (Reuters) – Sunday’s Super Bowl gives Web surfers a chance to get close to pro football’s biggest game by chatting online with players, voting for their favorite squad and playing armchair quarterback. While the Super Bowl television audience, which hit 133 million last year, is expected to greatly out number the cyber-fans, the Net gives hard-core and casual football buffs alike the chance to get up close and extremely personal.
“We use the Internet to let people kind of get into the stadium,” Jaan Janes of the National Football League said in a telephone interview earlier this week from Miami, where the Denver Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons will clash. The NFL has teamed up with search engine Lycos to put together Superbowl.com, whose address (http://www.superbowl.com) makes it one natural destination for surfers to Super Bowl XXXIII. It’s hardly the only Super Bowl site. The top players include ESPN.com (http://www.espn.com), CBS SportsLine (http://www.sportsline.com), NFL.com (http://www.nfl.com); and CNNSI.com (http://www.cnnsi.com), the CNN-Sports Illustrated site, according to Web measurement firm Media Metrix. And let’s not forget assorted other sites, including those that call Atlanta and Denver home. NFL.com, which Janes said is aimed at the hard-core football fan, is maintained by ESPN Internet Ventures for the NFL.
Along with the crushing mass of content that is the hallmark of the Internet stories, stats, photos, audio (in six languages at Superbowl.com), video, etc., etc. one big theme this year is interactivity and lots of it. “What’s new (at Superbowl.com) is the degree of participation,” Janes said, whose site is marking its fourth year (Would that make it Cyber-Super Bowl IV?). Superbowl.com and ESPN.com, for which this is also the fourth Super Bowl, offer online chats with players and coaches, sections where fans can talk among themselves and opportunities to predict team plays. Superbowl.com visitors can put up their own fan Web pages with an easy-to-use online form aimed at the novice Web page builder.
The Super Bowl is a bit like Mardi Gras.
The week leading up to the big event is part of the fun and that includes fans on the Net. Tuesday, for example, was “media day,” the annual press blitz, and some Net users were able to play reporter thanks to ESPN.com. Using an”interactive notebook” offered by the site, visitors got a shot at firing questions at Falcon and Bronco players for three hours.
Chat opportunities abound.
At ESPN.com, for example, fans Thursday morning got 30 minutes with New York Jets wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who was in Miami.
Over at Superbowl.com, Thursday’s chat schedule included an evening session with Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Neil O’Donnell. During the game, former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theisman will watch the contest and answer questions from ESPN.com from the perspective of someone who’s played in two Super Bowls.
Animated plays those charts with x’s and o’s but moving will be posted, accompanied by analysis by ESPN cable television NFL expert and former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mark Malone.
“You will be able to follow the super bowl on ESPN.com … play by play through your computer,” ESPN.com Senior Managing Editor John Marvel said in a phone interview from Bellevue, Wash., where ESPN.com is based.
Superbowl.com’s interactive game “Webcast” will include a player, coach and cybercaster Gil Brandt, who was the Dallas Cowboys’ player personnel director for 29 years and has represented the NFL online at three Super Bowls and four player drafts.
Sites will also offer the chance to play keyboard coach.
Superbowl.com has a game called QB1, in which participants compete with each other inpredicting offensive plays. This year marks the Net debut for QB1, which has been available at specially equipped bars and restaurants since 1984 and on America Online for several years. QB1 players on the Internet will be able to see how they are faring against their Web rivals but not QB1 players elsewhere, Janes said. ESPN.com has “Super Bowl Over/Under,” in which fans will guess various game stats. For example, how many rushing yards will Broncos running back Terrell Davis pile up? What will be the combined total at halftime? Time elapsed before the first score?
Superbowl.com also sports a contest that gives fans a way to help the competitors’ respective hometowns.
In the “Who Will Win” section, fans can vote for their favorite team. The United Way charitable organization inthe city whose squad gets the most votes by Sunday’s 6 p.m. EST kickoff will get a $25,000 donation from Waltham, Mass.-based Lycos. The second-place city’s United Way will get $10,000. As of Thursday night, the vote was 22,146 for Denver, 20,977 for Atlanta.
One thing you won’t find at Superbowl.com is mention of the long-running feud between Falcons coach Dan Reeves on one side and Broncos coach Mike Shanahan and quarterback John Elway on the other, a focus of this year’s bowl. Asked about this, Janes said: “We provide the viewpoint of the individual clubs and the league, and if the players and the coaches choose to discuss that, that’s their doing, not us.” Janes says his site’s aim is to get the fans involved. “We recognize that it’s covered left, right, top to bottom, very richly and deeply” by other media. If you’re one of those fans who suffer depression after the game because you realize the football season is over, there is a form of therapy. Superbowl.com will be up until mid-March.