WEEKLY WEB WATCH: WWW - 'Disintermediation' continues, with sports fans able to question their heros directly on the Net

The name says it all. Athlete Direct is all about that Nethead buzzword 'disintermediation.' And the middle man being cut out in this case is the Press.

The name says it all. Athlete Direct is all about that Nethead buzzword 'disintermediation'. And the middle man being cut out in this case is the Press.

As the blurb on the recently-launched site (www.athletedirect.com) puts it: 'In the world of sports, you've got your news, you've got your stats, and you've got your game stories. But ... have you ever asked Troy Aikman about his favorite moment as a Cowboy, and told him yours? Do you want to ask Ken Griffey Jr. about his Nintendo 64 video game? Now you can!' Athlete Direct currently hosts the sites of more than 100 sports stars, including Troy Aikman, Dennis Rodman, Lennox Lewis, and Michael Chang.

The athletes are effectively clients of the site, which splits the revenue from ads and merchandise sales in each star's area.

And it's popular. Last month over 500,000 unique online visitors frequented AD and its athlete areas, making it one of the most-visited sites on the Net. What draws people is the appearance of first-person contact with their idols - albeit mediated by the Net. The featured stars are supposed to provide regular fresh content, usually in the form of a journal. Many do, using the opportunity to put their own spin on particular actions or performances.

Baltimore Orioles' Albert Belle?not exactly known for his media-friendliness?has a sign on his locker reading: 'Want an interview? Check my Website.' And the site has no shortage of words from his own mouth.

Texas Rangers' Ivan 'Pudge' Rodriguez's site links through to a message board in the fan club area on Yahoo (clubs.yahoo.com/clubs/pudgeclub) where he gets to respond to questions like: 'My son just completed his freshman year in college. He is a catcher. Actually he is great: he batted 380; he had 24 out of 27 pick offs ... but he is just 5'8' and weighs 180 pounds. What are his chances for going pro?'

The upside of this kind of thing for any player, though, must be the encouragement, like the following from 15-year-old Ross Nieman: 'Me and my friends earn money every summer to go watch y'all play. We're going this year July 16,17 against the D-Backs. So hit us a home run!'

Not all the stars on AD seem to be prepared for this direct communication thing, though. Instead of the words of the star you get wire stories about them, and the entire exercise comes across as being just a little bit cynical. If you want people to come to your web site, read about you, and buy the shirt or the autographed ball or whatever, then give them a little bit more in return than just regurgitated wire copy.

Stovin Hayter is editor of Revolution. Contact him at stovin@revolution.haynet.com.

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