Football Content Scores with Fans Online

With the NFL season kick off last night, the online research community has been busy evaluating the flurry of activity in the online sports category, partly due to the fact that sports have long provided marketers with a valuable vehicle through which they can reach highly engaged consumers.

And while the Sports category has traditionally relied on advertising dollars, dynamic content, such as game highlights and video not available on TV, as well as hugely popular online fantasy leagues, are providing important new revenue streams, says comScore Media Metrix's latest data release.

According to comScore, in July, 48 million Americans visited a site in the Sports category and data show that Sports content is extremely popular among workplace Internet users. More than 38% of the at-work Internet population visited a Sports site in July (compared to 27% for at-home and 31% for university Internet users). ESPN continues to lead the category, capturing 17 million unique visitors in July, more than twice the audience size of the number two-ranked site,

comScore's release also said that an analysis of weekly visitation levels at Sports sites points to changing behavior patterns among online sports fans as the NFL season approaches. Most significantly, average weekly visitation to the NFL Internet Group, which includes as well as individual sites for every team in the league, increased by 94% in the first three weeks of August versus the previous six weeks. This increase drove the NFL Internet Group to the third ranked position in the first three weeks of August from the number six spot in the previous six weeks. Interestingly, it appears that Sports fans' focus on football may have come at the expense of other major sports leagues - and the NBA Internet Group saw declines of 13 and 36 percent respectively.

Yahoo! Sports, a popular destination among NFL fantasy league participants, experienced a 9% increase in traffic in the same period. (Official College Sports Network), which hosts websites for more than 140 college athletic programs, grew by 46% in the first three weeks of August as college football season ramped up.

As for individual teams, while the Cowboys may have had a losing record in last year's season, the off-season hiring of famed coach Bill Parcells is likely driving the team's substantial lead online. An average of more than 300,000 Internet users per week visited between August 4th and August 24th. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers - teams well known for their highly loyal and active fan bases - were the second and third most popular NFL team sites in the first three weeks of August. Among the top 15 NFL team sites, and were the fastest growing sites (167% and 166%).

Fantasy Vs. Reality

According to another web activity tracker, HitWise, fantasy football fans are also hitting the Internet in droves. Since June 28, U.S. visits to the Hitwise Sports - Fantasy category has increased by 131%, with 58% of the increase occurring in the last 3 weeks (since August 9th). HitWise calculates that Fantasy now accounts for 23% of all U.S. Sports traffic, and over the past 2 weeks the Realtime Fantasy Sports website ( has witnessed an increase in U.S. visits of 84%. Another site with a huge increase was ESPN Fantasy Games - (63%). Other Fantasy Sports sites to witness an increase in U.S. visits over the past 2 weeks were, NFL Fantasy Football - ( 48%, Fanball - ( 40%, Sportsline Fantasy - ( 39%, and Yahoo! Fantasy Football - ( 19%.

Men at Work...Well, Most of Time

While it may come as little surprise that Sports sites are popular with male Internet users, the extent to which this audience visits the category while at work suggests Sports content provides an attractive reprieve from the daily grind for many. According to comScore data, nearly 42% of male at-work Internet users visited a Sports site in July, and those who did spent an average of 77 minutes per month at sites in the category. Men who visited Yahoo! Sports proved to be highly engaged visitors, spending an average of more than 100 minutes per month at the site - more than at any other site in the category.

According to HitWise, average time spent on Sport - Fantasy sites in August was 10 min, 9 seconds - almost 5 minutes more than the average time spent by U.S. internet users on any website.

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