June 27, 2001 7:40 PM PDT

Microsoft to host official Olympics site

Microsoft said Wednesday that it has secured the rights to produce and host the official Web site for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games--its first foray into producing sports coverage and an arrangement that may give it a competitive edge over rivals.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software company entered an agreement with the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and NBC to produce the Olympic Web sites through its MSNBC.com property. Under the agreement, the MSN Network will sell advertising and sponsorships for the Olympics site in partnership with NBC.

The deal fills a void left by online sports company Quokka Sports, which held the exclusive rights to produce the events online but went bankrupt and shuttered its doors earlier this year. In addition, Logictier, the company that planned to host the site following Quokka, backed out of its deal to host the SaltLake2002.com Web site. Before the Microsoft agreement, the SLOC and NBC had been in talks with other leading Internet companies including Yahoo and RealNetworks to host the Web site.

The agreement marks Microsoft?s first major leap into producing sports content?-a highly competitive market that includes CBS Sportsline and ESPN.com. By securing exclusive rights to host the Web site, the MSN Network will be able to publish official Olympic reports on its sites-?potentially giving the Web site added firepower in competition to win consumers.

"AOL and Yahoo won?t have rights to that content," said Sarah Lefko, an MSN product manager.

If traffic to past Olympic Web sites is any indicator, that competition could be meaningful. According to Nielsen/NetRatings, NBCOlympics.com drew 4.4 million unique U.S. visitors in September during the games.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Although MSNBC is producing the Olympic games Web site, consumers will be able to access it from "NBCOlympics," "Saltlake2002.com" and "Olympics.com." Microsoft said it is still working out how the sites will be branded. The site will include feature stories, game results, athlete biographies and news reports on the 15 Olympic winter sports before and during the Games.

"The strong partnership marries the strengths NBC and SLOC with the worldwide audience of MSN and the Internet production experience of MSNBC," Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports and Olympics, said in a statement.


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