NiemanLab on USA Today Sports Center, the paper's online sports service from the 90s

1989: the year I was born and when USA Today launched its online sports service, USA Today Sports Center. Ernie Smith found the software that ran it in a Goodwill and wrote about it for NiemanLab:

Online services targeted at those with strong information needs were not unheard of during this period, either — as I have written in the past, The Wall Street Journal had an dial-in online resource for news clippings way back in 1974, and many major newspapers essentially threw their content at CompuServe in the early ’80s simply because CompuServe asked.

And because of the broad readership of USA Today (reportedly 5.3 million people daily in the late 1980s), it made for an effective upsell. If you’re into sports but you find the information in the pages of this newspaper not quite enough, here’s an online resource that can cover your need for the latest sports scores.

Announced in February 1989, the service was described as such:

USA TODAY Sports Center members will have a wide range of services at their fingertips. These include: complete statistics for professional sports, schedules for professional and college sports, personalized news statistics and scoreboards on a favorite team or player, team-by-team statistical matchups, the latest breaking sports news and scores from a live ticker wire, and national Fantasy Rotisserie league games for baseball, football, basketball and hockey.

Members also can trade, buy and sell baseball cards, chat with each other or USA TODAY Sports experts, purchase authentic professional sportswear and play board games, including international chess games and tournaments, checkers, go, reversi and blackjack.

So this was a network built for sports nuts, fantasy sports fans, and those who want to play some kind of online games. It wasn’t the only one of its kind, as anyone who has ever used BIX or The Well can attest, but it did play to the idea that there would be a small portion of USA Today’s audience that could be upsold.

This was very much “of its time”. Once Internet access became more widespread and online software on large floppy disks were replaced with CDs and navigable websites, the sports service died around 1995 when the paper shifted its efforts towards USA Today Online, “the first general-purpose online platform the newspaper operated” and acquired, which it still uses.

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