Athletes Channel Aims for Marketing Score and Broadband Sports teamed up last week to create an Athletes Channel on ESPN, giving ESPN readers an opportunity to communicate directly with athletes and an avenue to purchase sports-related items online.

The Athletes Channel, which will be produced by AthletesDirect, will appear on two of ESPN's special sections and in the middle section of the company's home page.

A division of Broadband, AthletesDirect — — produces and hosts the content for more than 350 athlete Web sites.

“We view the Athletes Channel as complementary to ESPN's coverage, because what we're doing consists of athlete commentary, journals and athlete content that is coming from the athletes themselves,” said Ross Schaufelberger, senior vice president at Broadband, Santa Monica, CA.

In addition to appearing on ESPN's special sections, an Athletes Channel hyperlink will be featured within relevant articles and commentary. For instance, if ESPN runs a story on the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant — an AthletesDirect athlete — is mentioned, a direct link to Bryant's Web site will be available within the content.

“We think one of the more compelling things is to be able to call out in an article a piece of news about one of the athletes for additional information or for more perspective than there is in this site,” said Geoff Reiss, senior vice president of programming, production and operations at, New York.

The hyperlinks also serve as an indirect avenue for ESPN readers to purchase sports-related products online. ESPN — which plans to launch an ESPN Mall in the next three weeks with partners such as Nike and FanBuzz, Reiss said — is looking to expand the commerce opportunities it offers online.

The company, which has no other shopping areas on its site, was ready to launch the first phase of its e-commerce expansion in the “next couple of days,” according to an ESPN representative. The deal partners ESPN with Nike, allowing ESPN users to shop at a Nike Store on ESPN.

AthletesDirect, meanwhile, features “tens of thousands” of tailored products on its site, ranging from rookie cards to autographed jerseys, Schaufelberger said.

“One of the opportunities that [consumers] will have when they go to read Kobe's latest information or see the latest content is to buy his products,” he said.

The agreement also creates a new distribution point for marketers of AthletesDirect products, Schaufelberger said. ESPN, according to both companies, touts a readership base of 8 million to 9 million individuals.

“Once you've identified somebody who has a penchant or an appetite for that particular player, there's a lot of things that you can do from there,” Reiss said. “And certainly, e-commerce is among those possibilities.”

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