The Australian calendar is moving from winter to spring, but heading into the Olympics, it might as well be Christmas for American sports Web site operators.
The confluence of a sizable time difference between Sydney and the United States and NBC's decision to air the Games on tape, has led to a flood of anticipation that traffic among the Big Four sports sites - ESPN, CNN/SI, Fox Sports and CBS SportsLine - will pick up during the 2 1/2 weeks of the Olympics.
"It's a tremendous opportunity for the Web sites," said Steve Robinson, managing editor of CNN/SI and its Web site.
Practically speaking, the table couldn't be better set for the Internet sites. Evening events in Sydney - which is 15 hours ahead of Baltimore and 18 ahead of Los Angeles - will take place when most Americans are sleeping, and after their morning newspapers have passed their final deadlines.
The commonly held perception, then, is that sports fans will hit the Web in earnest each morning for information that they can't see in their papers and won't see on television until that afternoon or evening.
"This is a wonderful Internet event, and with the time difference and NBC's coverage plans, we think we can take advantage of it," said John Marvel, vice president and executive editor of ESPN.com, the leading sports Web site with nearly 1.3 million unique daily visitors as of late August.
All the sites intend to bring in extra staffing to help manage the Olympic content, which will be added to the baseball pennant race and college and professional football material.
And all intend special Olympic material. For instance, CNN/SI will post a daily online Sports Illustrated, with pictures and editorial contribution from the magazine's staff, Robinson said.
Both ESPN and CBS SportsLine will have athlete diaries, and CBS SportsLine has struck deals with newspaper writers and some of the governing bodies of individual sports for unique material, said Joe Ferreira, vice president of programming for CBS SportsLine.
Outside of NBC's Olympic site, the most original content may come from Fox's site, which lags far behind the others in terms of traffic. Fox, owned by Australian Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., will borrow heavily from the corporation's Australian subsidiary, News Limited, an official Olympic sponsor, and its 500 accredited journalists.
Still, the concept of an Olympic Internet bonanza may end up more myth than fact.
Because of the transient nature of the Web and the time of the year, when the baseball pennant races climax and football season begins, it will be difficult to differentiate between people visiting the sites for Olympic results or for pennant scores or for fantasy football updates. More significantly, the International Olympic Committee, in an attempt to protect broadcast rights holders, such as NBC, has placed imposing restrictions on media entities.
For instance, the Web sites, including NBC's, are prohibited from showing streaming video of events until the day after the event. In addition, the IOC has limited access to athletes in Sydney and has denied media credentials to virtually all Web sites, meaning that many sites may have little to offer viewers besides results.
Internet hit parade
Web site .......................... Usual visitors/day
CBS SportsLine ...........................691,000
AOL connection could give CBS a link to casual eyes.
Daily online SI may make this Games' best content site.
IOC restrictions may be hardest on "worldwide leader's" site.
Fox Sports ..................................99,800
Staff and resources of Australian-based News Corp. help.