- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

For the last year or so, I’ve been getting press releases from something called the World Championship Sports Network, which operates WCSN.com, a Web-based channel featuring live coverage of sports like swimming, , snowboarding, skiing and gymnastics. We don’t cover these kinds of sports except during the Olympics, but I took note of WCSN.com recently because it turns out that unless you’ve got some sort of wacky satellite hookup, the Web site is probably the only place you would have been able to catch local favorite Michael Phelps go nuts at the FINA World Swimming Championships.

For those who haven’t been paying attention, Phelps has already broken three world records at the event and has four gold medals. And Team USA is doing extremely well in general, winning about half of the events it has entered. Not a bad tease for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, which start in a about 500 days.

WCSN.com costs about $50 per year, or $4.95 a month. I don’t see too many average sports fans paying the yearly fee, but $5 isn’t bad if you have a fast Internet connection and there’s a particular event you really want to see. If I had been paying attention, I probably would have paid $5 to see Phelps shatter Ian Thorpe’s 10-year-old world record in the 200-meter freestyle on Wednesday.

I can’t vouch for the quality of the live video, but a quick look at some of WCSN’s highlight clips suggests that it’s a decent, if not excellent, alternative to television. The images were a little grainy, and it was sometimes hard to tell the swimmers apart. But it’s pretty solid for Web-based video, and WCSN has some well-known announcers to give the network some legitimacy.

The WCSN.com Web site is operated by Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM), the same subsidiary of baseball that runs MLB.TV and a few other high-profile sports and entertainment Web sites. And apparently the network has some fairly wealthy backers in Europe. So this is not some cheesy Internet operation.

It will be interesting to see if WCSN gains subscribers in anticipation of Beijing. If the network is smart and savvy, it will find a way to partner with NBC, the official network of the Olympics in the U.S. At the very least, it should find a way to leverage the performances of Phelps and others to increase its visibility.

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