The Beijing Olympics won't come around until August of next year, but one local firm is already beginning to feel the impact.


Los Angeles-based World Championship Sports Network last week received a major cash infusion and forged a distribution partnership with ESPN.


The online network covers more than 60 different Olympic sports through programming agreements with many key international federations and national governing bodies. The video footage the network owns is in increasing demand as media outlets prep coverage for the Beijing Games.


Four-year-old WCSN has grown steadily and last week it closed a funding package with New York-based private equity firm InterMedia Partners. The deal makes InterMedia the majority stakeholder in the network.


The investment comes on the heels of a distribution agreement the network signed with ESPN.com.


"Deals like the one with ESPN have companies like InterMedia interested in investing in us," said WCSN Chief Executive Claude Ruibal. "Media is a cash intensive industry."


He says that the start-up venture should become profitable in early 2009 if all goes according to plan.


Last week's deal with Burbank-based Walt Disney Co. subsidiary ESPN is the most recent in a string of recent partnerships with media outlets including Fox Sports, Yahoo and AOL Video. The company will bring exclusive content to ESPN360.com, the recently re-launched live sports broadband network. Additionally, the company will provide content for ESPN's Olympic Sports section.


Through a series of agreements with governing bodies, WCSN has gained rights to broadcast world championships for many sports, a number of which will not be broadcast on network or cable TV in the United States. For example, visitors to the site can see this year's victory by Tyson Gay in the 100-meter world championship in Osaka, Japan.


The company is building a system that will allow it to archive clips of world-class athletes. As the site grows, Ruibal expects advertising revenues to increase, which could eventually lead to content being offered at no charge instead of the current subscription model.


"We expect to be one of the top 20 sports Web sites on the net," Ruibal said.


Dodger Blues

While the Los Angeles Dodgers failed to make the postseason, ticket holders made the team the top draw in the National League this year.


The team sold 3,857,036 tickets during the 2007 season, narrowly surpassing the New York Mets for the top spot. The Dodgers have increased attendance for seven consecutive years, although they failed to reach the goal set by owner Frank McCourt to bring in four million fans.


Overall, Major League Baseball set an attendance record with 79.5 million fans attending games in 2007.


Bull Market

AEG Events and Media, a live entertainment division of Los Angeles-based Anschutz Entertainment Group, acquired an ownership stake in Grit Rock Rodeo.


The joint venture will expand the number of live events and television broadcasts for the tours owned and operated by Grit Rock Rodeo, which owns the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour and the World's Toughest Rodeo.


The Wrangler Tour consisted of nine performances in 2007 and will announce its 2008 schedule in a few weeks. The World's Toughest Rodeo consists of 25 of the top rodeos in the U.S. and culminates in the Ariat Playoffs and championship. The tour will have 15 events broadcast nationally from September to December.


The two companies will collaborate on all aspects of event production including venue booking, live event production, merchandising, television production and distribution, digital platforms, concerts and sponsorship sales.


Best Bet

Students on the campuses of UCLA and USC are launching a YouTube trash-talking contest for San Francisco-based ePlay. The company selected the local campuses because of their historic rivalry to launch its college program. The contest winners will have their videos posted on YouTube and will win a $1,000 cash prize.


"This will be our first introduction to college campuses," said Debi Nason, chief marketing officer.


The company was launched in June and offers a game that is a cross between fantasy sports and quizzes. It allows online fans to enter weekly contests that test their knowledge of eight major sports including professional football, baseball, basketball, hockey, golf and NASCAR as well as college football and basketball. The contests cost $1 to enter and have cash prizes for the winner.


Staff reporter David Nusbaum can be reached at dnusbaum@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 236.

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