Cal Ripken is showing up at a lot of unusual places this year: third base, National League ballparks, cast in bronze.
And now in cyberspace.
Today, CBS SportsLine will debut the official Cal Ripken Web page, a high-tech, officially sanctioned collection of statistics, photos and multimedia goodies devoted to the Orioles infielder.
Fans will be able to correspond with Ripken -- who hasn't missed a game since the days when the Internet was an obscure academic tool -- via e-mail, play "Cal Ripken's Home Run Pinball" and stock up on Cal memorabilia.
With this new association, Ripken joins a list of sports stars cashing in on their celebrity in the media frontier of the Internet, a fast-growing computer venue that not all agents are convinced is ready for prime time.
In exchange for his participation, Ripken will receive stock in SportsLine USA, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.,-based Internet sports company founded in 1994. He will also receive a percentage of certain revenues derived from his page, such as merchandise sales and advertising.
"The biggest upside is that fans from all over will be able to follow Cal's career," said Ira Rainess, who coordinates Ripken's commercial activities through The Tufton Group.
Not everyone in the business is sold on the new technology, however. Ray Clark, general manager of The Marketing Arm, a Dallas-based firm that includes the Chicago Bulls' Scottie Pippen among its clients, said he's advising his athletes to wait to see how the technology develops.
"We think there is an opportunity in the future, but we haven't seen a lot of the success yet, so we're taking a wait-and-see approach. I have not seen the revenues to the athlete yet that justify the time commitment," Clark said. "He could probably spend that time autographing balls and do better."
But Rainess says the arrangement could pay off in the long run by contributing to Ripken's following among fans. The All-Star was also intrigued by the concept because he is a computer aficionado who takes a laptop on the road with him, Rainess said.
"It's a minimal time commitment," he said of the required columns, chat-room participation and other demands of maintaining the page. Ripken has committed to the project for at least two years, he said.
On the SportsLine page, Ripken will be accompanied by several superstars, including the NHL's Wayne Gretzky, NBA's Shaquille O'Neal, former NFL quarterback Joe Namath and even volleyball player Gabrielle Reece.
Each page offers an eclectic mix of self-promoting fare. Gretzky's offers photos of him in as a youngster playing in the Canadian youth leagues and also interior shots of his restaurant. Reece's includes photos of her in bikinis, as well as "Gabby's" workout suggestions (Tip No. 3: "Be aware of your food").
Ripken's page enables visitors to hear recorded interviews and his emotional on-field speech, when he broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games streak, view pictures of a young Cal in his Little League uniform and get information on the Ripken Museum in Aberdeen -- where a bronze statue of him stands.
"The Internet is now another form of mainstream media," said Kenneth Dotson, vice president of marketing for SportsLine.
Dotson said athletes will have a number of opportunities to derive revenues from the page, from integrated sponsorship deals to the sale of hats, balls and apparel, that should pay off over time.
CBS SportsLine is an Internet joint venture by CBS Sports and SportsLine. The Ripken page can be accessed through SportsLine's home page or directly at http: //www.2131.com.
Pub Date: 4/09/97