ActiveUSA's Small-Town Play

In an effort to reach small-town folks, ActiveUSA has acquired rival LeagueLink, forming a site where amateur athletes and weekend warriors can register for local sporting events such as softball leagues or marathons. La Jolla, Calif.-based ActiveUSA would not disclose the exact price tag of the LeagueLink deal, which was announced this week - but company officials put the investment at about $15 million.

The move helps Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch Inc., which owns a 19 percent stake in ActiveUSA, work its way into the nascent market for local, recreational sports sites.

In December, Ticketmaster entered into the local-sports arena with a $15.5 million investment in ActiveUSA, buying a 19 percent stake and a seat on ActiveUSA's board. Flush with Ticketmaster dollars, ActiveUSA then set its sights on LeagueLink, an online service with a database of up to 500,000 amateur events.

The combined ActiveUSA is aiming to collect fees (usually $2 per registrant) for each athlete who registers for those events online. Eventually, the idea is to sell ads and merchandise on the site, too, according to Dave Alberga, CEO of ActiveUSA. "The only money coming in now is from registration fees," he says.

"If we can win that piece then everything else will follow."

This area of sports entertainment is young and unproven, to say the least.

There are no sound financial projections for regional sports sites. And the market is crowded; hobby sites put up by sports enthusiasts and local sports leagues abound. But the entire sector got a big endorsement last month, when News Corp.'s announced that it would tackle high school and local sports coverage to boost its sagging ratings.

Ticketmaster sees potential, too. "We believe this category will be large enough," says Dan Marriott, executive VP of corporate strategy. "We want to help create the leader."

Marriott figures ActiveUSA will add more local content and e-commerce possibilities to the service. For example, a softball tournament in suburban Chicago could use ActiveUSA to boost registrations from well outside the area.

Ticketmaster could then up-sell registrants by dangling tickets to a play, plus reservations at a bed-and-breakfast. Eventually, ActiveUSA intends to sell sports merchandise, too.

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