FOX Sports, a subsidiary of News Corporation, was founded in 1984 to provide sports news and entertainment to U.S. audiences. In the late 1990s, the FOX Sports Web site was launched as an extension of the broadcast station to provide scores and stats to Internet users. In 2001, the company realized the opportunity to generate business via its Web site and created the FOX Sports Interactive Media division to focus on delivering the ultimate online sports site. One of its largest opportunities to date was brought to life through a partnership with Microsoft announced in May 2004 that called for FoxSports.com to exclusively provide sports programming for the MSN® portal.
While excited about its deal with Microsoft and the opportunity to reach the vast MSN audience, FOX Sports knew it was inheriting an audience of less intense sports fans. FOX Sports’ challenge was to not only ensure it could support a significant increase in website traffic, but to also create site elements that convert casual sports fans to more hard-core fans...and loyal site visitors who spend more time on the site.
According to Andrew Hossom, FOX Sports Interactive Media’s Director of Marketing:
As a long-time Akamai customer, FOX Sports knew it could count on the Akamai’s content delivery network (CDN) and Web Performance Solutions to support its needs. “There’s no way we could have prepared for the launch in such a short amount of time without Akamai – it would have required an unheard of amount of hardware to support the extra Internet traffic. We were expecting traffic to go up 7X – in actuality, traffic went up 10X and has remained that high. In fact, during July, the newly re-launched FOXSports.com on MSN was the fastest-growing sports Web site in the U.S. Yet our hardware costs only increased 25% in support of the launch,” explains Mark Richards, Director of Technology for FOX Sports.
“Preparing for the launch was a stressful time because a lot was riding on ensuring success. It was a relief to not worry about scalability because we had the Akamai solution in place,” continues Richards.
“We’ve used both Keynote and Gomez to monitor performance against our top competitors since the re-launch, and our site is consistently faster and more available than all those sites. In fact, our home page downloads more than twice as fast as the nearest competitor,” says Richards.
“A high-performing site contributes to our goals of increasing user stickiness and repeat visitors,” added Hossom. “It allows us to present a rich site featuring lots of photos and other unique content that encourage visitors to further explore the site.”
Now that advertisers and ad agencies realize that FOX Sports offers the ability to reach a large targeted and engaged audience, banner ad and sponsorship sales are increasing. At the same time, the various FOX brands, such as FOX College Sports and FOX Sports World, are interested in presenting their brands on the FOX Sports site. With Akamai, FOX Sports can ensure that website performance meets the expectations of advertisers, partners and other divisions of FOX Sports.
According to Richards, “We know that when someone clicks on an MSN link, the story will be available and will display quickly, and that reflects strongly on the brand.”
For Fox Sports, one of the original selling points of Akamai’s CDN was that it absorbs all Denial of Service attempts and other types of web security threats. “With Akamai, we don’t need to draw up contingency plans around these types of threats – we know we won’t go down and we won’t get slammed with bandwidth or other related costs,” says Richards.
FOX Sports Interactive Media realized it had a unique revenue-generating opportunity with the data feeds it receives from a variety of FOX Sports related sources.
“We ingest a wealth of data – such as live scores – and need to parse it before we can present it on our site. Other sites need to present the same data, so we decided to repackage and sell it to our partners. We are able to offer our partners service level agreements that guarantee that we’ll deliver this data because with Akamai we know the data will always be available, even if the origin site is down,” says Richards.
One planned enhancement for the site includes delivering contextually appropriate content to viewers based on personal preferences. For example, a Boston Red Sox fan would automatically be shown news and deals that relate to the Red Sox. Right now, FOX Sports Interactive Media enables this on a certain level via site registration, but plans to enhance site personalization through Akamai’s geo-targeting capabilities.
“Akamai allows us to expand site functionality without having to make major changes on our back end. In a traditional Web infrastructure, adding certain features might cause a 50% increase in our database load. With Akamai, we can simply take advantage of built-in features such as personalization and EdgeComputing without worrying about the impact to our infrastructure. This frees us to focus on strategies that encourage site visitors to stay on the site longer, and that drive more revenues,” concludes Richards.