Sport on the Internet

The Web, particularly for commercial sites, is a numbers game. They need eyeballs on the site and they need to make sure those eyeballs keep coming back.

The Web, particularly for commercial sites, is a numbers game. They need eyeballs on the site and they need to make sure those eyeballs keep coming back.

On sports sites, content plays a vital role, but many sites more or less duplicate each other's efforts. The interactive nature of the Web, however, lends itself to adding value and winning loyal users. Getting people to interact with the site, the argument goes, fosters a sense of involvement and will have them returning. Once that might have involved mandatory registration before using a site, now it's more likely to involve fun.

Online games are one method. The official site for the Six Nations Rugby series, for instance, has excellent competition coverage, but it also has a Flash penalty kick game, which is fun, but does not have too steep a learning curve. But games, even simple ones at which you can become a diva with little effort, do not appeal to everyone. For one thing they involve loading time, and even a 30-second wait may be too much for some.

Online polls are another simple, fun method of involving visitors, with the advantage that they take very little time. Few sports fans cannot summon up an instant opinion when asked to vote. If you visit many sports sites you will notice polls everywhere.

Polls can be as simple as hitting a yes or no choice on the front page of a site, or clicking on an answer from a multi-choice set, such as with Rugby365's: "Which of the Six Nations coaches will be the first to lose his job?" The cumulative results are displayed under the voting buttons for each coach; Graham Henry was leading with 30.7 per cent of votes last week.

If such a poll disappears to be replaced by another, there is a sense that closure is missing. Sometimes the final results are presented in some backwater of the site, but only ever stumbled across by chance.

Football Sports.com have set the standard in a recent poll. They asked people to choose, from a selection of past and present greats, who would be in their ultimate football team. Opinions flooded in - close to half a million votes were cast. Later, having the results posted online and prominently flagged ensured that anyone who voted would almost be guaranteed to have a look at how their choices compared with the majority verdict, including some famous name entries - Bob Wilson, Jim Rosenthal, Jack Charlton, Mark Lawrence and Ray Stubbs. Stubbs got the team right except in centre midfield where he chose Bobby Charlton over Michel Platini.

Second guessing celebrities and your peers is intrinsically satisfying. Sports.com went one better than most polls by having some decent prizes: Man Utd tickets, skiing holidays, £100 gift certificates and tops signed by George Best and Denis Law.

I suspect they have established their identity in the minds of many of those half a million voters. Expect more polls like this on a Web site near you.

andy.oldfield@virgin.net

Site Addresses

European And Six Nations Rugby http://www.officialeuropeanrugby.com/

Rugby365 http://www.rugby365.com/

Football Sports.com http://football.sports.com/

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