NFL, MLB Suffer As Sites Fumble Video

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- When you're on the fence about your wide receiver or one good relief pitcher away from finishing in the money, a sports site's video trumps box scores and nightly SportsCenter every time.

As fantasy football managers optimistically begin the 2010 season and rotisserie baseball skippers mercifully end their own interminable campaigns, their eyes are increasingly drawn to video coverage on sports websites such as Disney's ( DIS) ESPN, MLB.com and NFL.com. Judging by a survey by market research firm Forrester Research ( FORR), fans aren't always happy with what they're seeing.

In a survey of 10 sports websites that included those set up by leagues, teams and sports channels, video scores lagged those of entertainment sites including ABC.com and NBC.com and video sites such as Hulu and Google's ( GOOG) YouTube. Instead of yelling at the screen during bobbled receptions or botched balls-and-strikes calls, Forrester researcher Nick Thomas says fans are bursting capillaries screaming at blank screens as videos buffer and nonexistent status bars as waiting periods stretch.

By ignoring their video elements, sports sites throw away customers and ad money and take a hit in Web rankings. Nielsen found that mobile users spend 4.1% of their time online on sports sites, longer than they spend chasing memes on YouTube (3%) or downloading the Beyonce back catalog on music sites (4%). Of the 26% of all online video viewers who watch sports videos regularly, Forrester says 76% are male -- and 96% are online daily.

Regardless of gender, the online sports geek is roughly 43 years old, collects $86,000 in household income and favors NFL, major league baseball and college football coverage. What should be wide-open targets for the NFL and official sponsors such as MolsonCoors ( TAP), Verizon ( VZ) and Papa Johns ( PZZA) are lost amid mounds of related content and with video URLs that don't show up in Google, Yahoo ( YHOO) and Microsoft ( MSFT) Bing searches.

If fans want to know how sports video sites should be run, take a look at FIFA.com and ESPN's video coverage of this summer's World Cup. Forrester commended FIFA on its simple, YouTube-style controls, calling it easily accessible and sorted in a manner that made sense to fans familiar with offsides rules and newcomers who'd never seen a red card. ESPN, whose video traffic jumped more than 50% from May to the first two weeks of World Cup coverage in June, made it extremely clear where fans could find match-specific clips and commentary. Plus, especially in the case of ESPN, the 17% of sports video watchers Forrester says are likely to comment or post on sports sites were offered the opportunity to do so.

Perhaps most embarrassingly for the NFL and MLB sites is that their high-powered, high-return sports lag behind low-energy golf in online video presentation. Forrester lavished praise upon Golf.com for grouping videos of events and player interviews with instructional clips and original content including, for example, Will Ferrell discussing why he shanks the ball.

When ComScore ( SCOR) released its list of July's Top 50 Web properties, the only sports site that made the grade was a World Cup-powered ESPN. While the NFL's internet group saw a 28% increase in the same period, it still lagged far behind NBC, CBS, Fox and Turner sites. The NFL gets more play on Hulu, which cracked the Top 10 in ComScore's last online video rankings, than it does on its own site. If the sports sites want to pull a come-from-behind victory, they need to make easily playable, easily findable online video part of their game plan.

--Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.

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