Sport on the Internet

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FOR AN industry that is supposed to innovate almost exponentially, things do not look set to change much online as the new football season gets underway at the weekend.

There are many reasons for that, from the lack of fast connections holding up new Net technologies, through to licensing and rights negotiations mired in pre-Internet laws and mindsets. Meanwhile Internet businesses are trying to win audiences by establishing themselves as portals - one stop sites where you can do everything from buy CDs to check what the latest on the Anelka situation is.

The portals tend to aggregate content from other sources, rather than generate their own, and spice them with entertainment such as spot the ball or fantasy leagues. The upshot is that you could get the info elsewhere, but you might have to visit several sites, rather than one. Portals can be useful, but seeing as many of them use the same information sources, deja vu can soon kick in.

Sport, particularly football, is seen as a big draw for the portals. Freeserve, for instance, has a dedicated football channel which delivers live scores, match reports and results, courtesy of UK Football Live. It has a breaking news service hosted by Sportsline, with a week-ahead preview (not working the week before the season kicks off), features and editorial from Football 365 columnists including Patrick Barclay, Andy Gray, and Danny Kelly. There are direct links to pages customised to capture news about specific teams: 21 Premiership and "big" Nationwide teams, plus Celtic and Rangers.

Virgin Net has a similar sports channel, but it favours content from FourFourTwo. Its strength is online radio. Sport Saturday, produced by TeamTalk, is a general Web radio station that has commentary on assorted events, full football results on the hour in season, and news bulletins. Match Day Live has broadcast commentary on leading games, last season deals were done with Forest, Chelsea and Everton to cover their matches. For this season, tune in and see. Delivery is by G2 RealPlayer.

To find out what's happening in the lower leagues, MSN has links to sites for First and Second Division clubs. For the Third Division forget the portals and head for the Nationwide Website. It has the familiar newsfeeds, but it also has links to unofficial sites where there are intriguing developments that don't always make the news wires.

Rummaging around in the Third Division, for example, there is a link to Green Army, a Plymouth Argyle fans site. The message boards there are lively at the moment. The fans heard that Dwight Marshall was a possible re-signing, but the club wouldn't stump up for hotel accommodation for a season, so the fans had a whip-round, to the tune of a couple of grand, but couldn't get the club to accept it.

There's life beyond the Premiership and the Web is a good way of keeping up with it.

Site Addresses

Freeserve http://www.freeserve.net/

Virgin Net http://www.virgin.net/

MSN http://msn.co.uk/

Nationwide Home Of Football http://www.football.nationwide.co.uk/

Green Army http://www.argyle.org.uk/

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