When earlier this month Dennis Rodman expressed interest in
returning to the NBA, no freak-show press conference was hastily
arranged, no sportswriter was tipped off, no late-night TV host
got the scoop. (Rodman did discuss his intentions on The Tonight
Show, but actress Charlize Theron was a guest and the Worm never
can resist sharing the couch with a starlet.) Instead, Rodman
wrote of his intentions in his Web site journal at
www.AthleteDirect.com. "Most recently Dallas has been mentioned,
and for me the important thing is that I really want to play for
a team that can go far in the playoffs," Rodman (above)
scrivened. "I don't know if it's Dallas."
Just as Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, capitalized upon the
most efficient means of eliminating the middleman (i.e., the
retail store) in commerce, AthleteDirect is leading the way in
eliminating the intermediary in free speech (i.e., the Fourth
Estate). As Bills wide receiver Andre Reed wrote on his
AthleteDirect page on Jan. 11, "I don't talk to the media in
Buffalo, so they couldn't wait for something to break! My journal
was all they needed." More like, My journal was all they were
going to get.
Launched in 1996 by the Internet company Broadband.com,
AthleteDirect now produces Web pages for more than 200 athletes,
giving each player a slice of the advertising and the
merchandising revenue generated by his or her page. "We're hoping
to have a paradigm shift where people come to this site for their
primary information," says AthleteDirect general manager Jason
Schirn. "[Denver Broncos tight end] Shannon Sharpe, for example,
says that he will talk to no media before a Super Bowl now, only
through his Web site."
At AthleteDirect, 20 or so employees transcribe the jock-hacks'
entries and check for errors in grammar and spelling. Are there
reasons to believe that the athletes, and not their agents or
publicists, deserve the bylines? Aside from assurances from
Schirn, there are none.
Not only does AthleteDirect give jocks the opportunity to
present themselves in the most flattering light and to cash in
while doing it, but a "Message Board" link on each site lets
fans converse with them. "We try to have each athlete provide an
entry once a week during his or her season," says Schirn, who
joined AthleteDirect after being a producer for ESPN's Up Close
with Roy Firestone. "Fans get used to knowing their favorite
athlete's entry will be there. Consequently the commercial
aspects of our site receive greater traffic." Meanwhile, the
media would do well to learn a new phrase. Instead of hearing
"No comment" or "Maybe later," the brush-off may become "Visit
my Web site."
NFL Playoff Ratings
According to Nielsen, overnight ratings for last weekend's
divisional playoffs averaged 10% lower than the 1999 numbers.
Ominously, the largest TV market left for the conference finals
is No. 13 Tampa Bay.
Kurt Warner and Co.'s 49-37 victory over the Vikings on Sunday
on Fox earned a smashing 21.2 rating and a 43 share in the
messages unfiltered by the media.