Flexing muscle for OT Sports Connection: The Hunt Valley company is counting on support from its new CD-ROM football game's ties to the Walt Disney Co.

September 02, 1996|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,SUN STAFF

OverTime Sports is hitting the road to sell a CD-ROM football game based on an institution that's nearly as old as dirty jerseys -- Monday Night Football.

As it does, the tiny Hunt Valley software shop will show how the synergy works behind such media mega-mergers as Walt Disney Co.'s $19 billion takeover of Capital Cities/ABC Inc.

The new product was designed by software designers that ABC brought to the merger and will be distributed through a sales operation arm that came from Disney. It was announced on ABC's ESPN network, and it's based on an occasion for beer and pretzels known throughout the country and beyond. The entire process pulls together elements from both of the old companies in a bid to prove that the new Disney is more than the sum of its parts.

"Monday Night Football is a 27-year-old institution," said Deb Wahler, general manager of OT Sports. "It's the No. 1-watched regularly scheduled sports program. But you know what we can add with new media? We can continue the interest of Generation X and other people who haven't grown up with Monday Night Football."

That's the plan, anyway.

The road that led toward the plan began in 1994. That's when Cap Cities/ABC approached Spectrum Holobyte Inc., the Silicon Valley firm that took over Hunt Valley-based MicroProse Corp. after that once high-flying game company's financial flameout, with an idea for a joint venture. ABC wanted to exploit the Monday Night Football brand in a new way, without going to the trouble of forming a new division -- it would supply the brand and Spectrum would supply the software expertise.

By this year, ABC had bought out Spectrum's share of the venture and Disney bought out ABC. By the time all that was done, work on the game was under way in earnest.

ABC's intellectual property is certainly in full view in the finished product, from Hank Williams Jr. singing the show's theme song, to the announcing crew of Frank Gifford, Al Michaels and Dan Dierdorf doing their thing, to Chris Berman doing halftime analysis.

OT Sports says it has even programmed in plays from the playbooks of all 30 NFL teams, 20 categories of statistics on every NFL player so each team plays at more or less its real level and rosters, current through last week. That can be updated by downloading new data from the Internet.

No, the teams didn't give up their playbooks. Instead, Wahler said, software designers watched reels upon reels of film until they figured out each team's plays. Tough duty.

The game lets you choose the action, then instantly splices audio that was recorded by the Monday Night Football announcers to anticipate every situation -- at least generically -- to digitally recorded video of NFL players who wore sensors while they made cuts, throws, tackles and other moves.

Depending on which two NFL teams a player chooses, the announcers welcome you to the appropriate stadium and the digital Berman critiques your play-calling at "halftime."

Much of that has been done before by competitors in the crowded game market. What's distinctly new is the muscle that Disney can put behind 29 people working in an industrial park off Beaver Dam Road.

"Disney's sheer size ensures that the product will get on the shelf and get on the shelf [prominently]," Wahler said. "Its size opens more doors, takes you more places."

Publicity

It also ensures that the game will not lack publicity. The company has fitted a bus with 11 computers loaded with the game. The bus will tour the country this fall, stopping on 14 Mondays at the site of that week's ABC telecast, beginning tonight in Chicago. The roof of the bus will be painted so it will show on shots from the blimp. And let's just say that some publicity from the boys in the broadcasting booth is, well, possible.

"We're hoping to pop it up whenever we can," said Keith Ritter, ABC Sports' vice president of marketing.

Ritter said the game isn't the only Monday Night Football spinoff to follow the merger. A Disney-owned record company has generated an "official Monday Night Football party album," he said.

Wahler said the venture also hopes to generate news coverage from ABC-affiliated stations in the cities it visits, such as WMAR-TV (Channel 2) in Baltimore when the bus comes here Oct. 1, in the style of "news" reports on emergency rooms that always seem to become most urgent on Thursday nights during ratings "sweeps" surveys.

"They just let us know it's going to be here," WMAR station manager Joe Lewin said.

Mutual benefits

Whether to call the tour "news" is the station's call, he said. But he said the thinking behind the game is that it will help Monday Night Football, and that Monday Night Football will help sell the computer game.

"Disney really believes in cross-promotion and they're very good at it," Lewin said.

Wahler said the game operation will soon be promoting other ABC Sports properties. A college football game is coming soon, and a game based on auto racing -- Disney's ESPN and the ABC network carry a lot of it, including the Indianapolis 500 -- is to come out next year.

Retail for about $50

Wahler would not say how many of the Monday Night CD-ROMs OT Sports hopes to sell, but said the game will be successful if it sells 200,000 units at a price somewhere around $50 to $55.

She said some projections show the new venture making a profit in its first year.

"The visibility for a small interactive start-up is incredible," said Wahler, a former MicroProse marketing executive. "ABC and Disney truly make a lot of things possible."

Pub Date: 9/02/96

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