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EBay Sets Up Dedicated Site for Sports Items

EBay Inc. has spun off an online destination for its $750 million sports retail and auctions business.

The Oct. 2 launch of eBaySports.com comes more than two years after the San Jose, CA, company debuted eBayMotors.com as a dedicated site for automotive items. EBay Sports starts with more than 900,000 fixed-price and auction listings of sporting goods and collectibles.

EBay Sports aggregates four key sports lines — memorabilia, event tickets and experiences, sporting goods and licensed merchandise. With this site, eBay hopes to put bigger retail rivals on notice for fear of losing out to a growing force in sports retail.

“The Sports Authority and Foot Locker certainly have to look at the eBay marketplace and see if they want to use it,” said Bob Hebeler, vice president and general manager of eBay for sports.

Sports-related sellers on eBay last year listed more than 37 million items, garnering sales of $750 million. Sports-related gross merchandise sales this year are expected to touch $1 billion. EBay has 50 million registered users. The company would not break out auction versus retail sales for sports-related items.

EBay claims the new site has better navigation for locating products than the sports section at eBay.com. A separate resources section on the home page aids users in issues like authentication, pricing, reviews and news. The center of the home page will allow features to be rotated seasonally.

Simply put, eBay Sports lets the retailer do for sports what eBay.com does for a host of categories, but in a drilled-down manner.

“It allows us the opportunity to be more flexible with our offerings to sports consumers,” Hebeler said. “We like to be able to show graphics and timely sports-related items to consumers. We felt that we were not doing a good enough job of showing our users our sports offerings and the breadth and depth.”

One dimension of this launch is the participation of broadcaster Fox Sports. The News Corp.-owned media company will offer experiences on eBay Sports and feature related auctions on the Fox Sports site.

A key advantage eBay Sports offers is the larger canvas for promotions and partnership opportunities with marketers and retailers. This is not so easily done on eBay.com, where sports vies for attention with myriad auction categories.

Take the relationship with the U.S. Olympic Committee. The Colorado Springs, CO, organization sells select products and experiences with athletes on eBay Sports to make revenue on the side.

“I think it just brings more attention to the sports category, which is extremely helpful for us,” said Matt Farrell, associate director of Internet marketing at U.S. Olympic Entertainment Properties.

“People obviously know about eBay, but carving out a sports niche helps us because the Olympics have a true niche following,” he said. “For example, someone just bid $2,000 for a curling stone. To me, that exemplifies the true nature of Olympic fans.”

The site extends eBay's foray into fixed-price sales without undercutting the auctions mainstay.

“We look at fixed price as yet another way to purchase products on eBay,” Hebeler said. “Some consumers prefer fixed price. But we don't think of ourselves as a traditional retailer because we focus on after-life-cycle, pre-owned or discontinued product.”

World domination, however, is the name of the game. The next step for eBay Sports is charity auctions. EBay Sports is offering auctions for a chance to play golf with Jack Nicklaus or basketball with Magic Johnson. Bidders also can join NASCAR star Kyle Petty on a cross-country motorcycle trip or share the limelight with former baseball player Keith Hernandez at a charity event.

Though it is a standalone Web site, eBay Sports also can be accessed from the flagship eBay.com by clicking on the sports navigation tab.

Public relations will be pivotal in getting the word out on eBay Sports. But the company also will ramp up marketing and promote the site on Fox Sports, its regional channels and on the Fox sites. Other print and on-air advertisements also will drive traffic.

Marketing will target eBay's core buying audience — upper-income males ages 25 to 54. But next year, the company will break an undisclosed push to draw more women to buy on the site.

“We'll branch out into finding partners with a female audience,” Hebeler said. “In terms of categories, they're apparel, fashion and female sports participation.”

EBay might introduce separate sites for other categories listed on its site. But high volume is a prerequisite for that standalone privilege.

“This one, we see it as unique because it is a big business with a wide diversity of products, and we're not sure all categories will have the scale,” Hebeler said. “But I would expect there could be others.”

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