WCSN brings depth to championship Web coverage; signs deal with Yahoo

By Carolyn Braff

Olympic athletes compete for years before taking part in the Games, but until recently, fans had few means of tracking their progress. Thanks to the expanding reach of the World Championship Sports Network (WCSN), however, fans can now follow the stories of those Olympic disciplines year-round. And a multiyear distribution partnership with Yahoo! is also in the works. At the end of this month, WCSN will begin providing free branded videos to Yahoo! Sports’ Olympic site, as well as subscription-based content.

“Yahoo is a major destination for so many people and since they don’t have an Olympic or lifestyle sporting area, we are going to power that,” says Bo Lamotte, senior vice president of distribution for WCSN. “It was a mutually beneficial partnership in which we could reach additional eyeballs that we normally wouldn’t be reaching and we could power something that they would never have the manpower to go get.”

WCSN delivers coverage of world-class competitions in Olympic and lifestyle sports on two platforms – a 24/7 cable network, WCSN TV, and a Web portal, www.wcsn.com. The company provides live and on-demand content for more than 60 sports, ranging from cycling and track and field to table tennis and Taekwondo.

“These sports happen year round, not just during the Olympics,” says T.K. Gore, director of marketing and communications for WCSN. “We’re trying to capture those feelings of fans during Olympic years and share these stories and events as they unfold heading into the summer games in Beijing.”

WCSN’s most recent partnerships will bring fans even closer to those stories. A deal with the International Rowing Federation gives WCSN broadcast rights for the most important competitions in the 2007 rowing season, including the World Rowing Championships, streaming live from Munich, Germany. Nearly 1,200 athletes from 70 nations will compete to qualify for the 2008 Olympics.

WCSN’s manpower comes from its partnerships with 28 of the 35 international sporting federations. Presenting more than 60 world championships, 300 World Cups and 50 Grand Prix events this year alone, production logistics can be quite challenging. “We’re doing so many events it’s almost staggering,” says Gore.

Sending production trucks all over the world is not financially possible, so WCSN leverages its partnerships to obtain video feeds from a host broadcaster, adding its own graphics and audio play-by-play on top.

“In order to add live commentary with player interviews and in-depth analysis, we will send over a camera and a reporter to add real insight and good stories beneath the sporting events,” Lamotte explains.

With the success of last summer’s production of the US swimming championships, for which WCSN brought its own truck and camera crew, the network sees more self-produced events on the horizon, and the online portal offers a growing supply of original content.

“We have deals with Reuters and Getty images, but we try to go beyond their content,” adds Gore. “We’re bringing live events to a community that has traditionally had to follow the action through text alerts.” With writers and bloggers filing original features to complement the live action, wcsn.com offers an unparalleled resource for fans.

The site is run in partnership with Major League Baseball Advanced Media, which assists in day-to-day operations and event streaming. Results, photo galleries, and other features are available for free, but video footage requires a $4.95 monthly subscription (or $49.95 annual), and subscribers are just as likely to participate in the featured sports as they are to watch them.

“There are a lot of people out there, either at the highest level of competition or the casual observer, that really appreciate the ability to go back and watch content on demand,” Gore says. “Participants can watch technique, which serves as training for some people.”

Finding the biggest fans of these niche sports is not always easy, though live events tend to draw a larger following than on-demand programming, even if the event takes place at 4 a.m. eastern, as did a recent live stream of the London marathon.

“When we show things live it creates a larger audience than on-demand,” Gore adds. “We’ve tried to go after a lot of the die hards, whether they’re participants or spectators or viewers. The international federations are good partners in helping us to get the word out globally, and for the domestic events we approach the national governing body and work out a partnership. We try to make sure that if we’re promoting a swimming event, that we’re blanketing that audience.”

If WCSN can continue its current rate of growth, Olympic sports fans may soon have a new problem – too much content, too little time.

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