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It's not often the Rays find themselves honored as baseball's best in anything, so even though it amounts to just a college research project, Matthew Abt gave the Rays a pleasant surprise last week.
Abt, a senior in sports management at Massachusetts, evaluated the official sites of all 30 major-league teams for an assignment in a sports communications class. His analysis found devilrays.com "a step above every other Major League Baseball site. ... The design, fan features and unique content should serve as a model for the league's 29 other teams to follow."
Abt assessed a score of 1 to 3 for each site in four categories: content, fan features, fan friendliness and interactivity, and the Rays were the only site given a perfect score in all four.
"The Rays' site was far and away the best," Abt said by phone this week, impressed by lively message boards and features allowing fans to sign up to sing the national anthem or catch broadcasts from the Arizona Fall League.
Abt noticed that newer teams tended to draw higher scores (the Marlins ranked second) while long-established teams were often disappointing -- the Reds, Yankees and his favorite Red Sox drew the three lowest ratings.
"The class had a thesis that the older the team, the less their site had," said adjunct professor Andy McGowan, a former NHL public relations executive who came to appreciate the importance of a strong team site as the Washington Capitals vice president for communications under AOL Time Warner executive Ted Leonsis, the team owner.
McGowan split his class into five groups, analyzing all team sites for baseball, the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLS. Baseball was the most difficult call, not only because the season had ended, but because the league streamlined all team sites to similar cookie-cutter designs last spring. What Abt found separated the best from the worst was the creativity in putting different pegs into the same holes.
"Tampa Bay has the most creative and innovative site that I studied," he wrote. "It has everything a Devil Rays fan could ever want in a Web site."
The best in each sport, as determined by McGowan's class: the NHL's stlouisblues.com and newyorkrangers.com, NFL's atlantafalcons.com, NBA's bulls.com and MLS' chicago-fire.com. Aside from the Rays, no Tampa Bay team was in the top half of its sport -- the Mutiny ranked seventh of 12 teams, the Lightning 18th of 30 sites and the Buccaneers 21st out of 31 teams.
There may be some credibility to Abt's studies -- Rays webmaster Eric Helmer said Wednesday the site's traffic has been fifth-best among baseball's official sites. And if that's not enough, the paper earned an A for Abt, who graduates in December and will be looking for a job at baseball's winter owners meetings next month in Boston.
TID-BYTES: Proof that not every investment option has had a rough two months: stock for Sportsline.com, traded on Nasdaq, was at 81 cents on Sept. 17 but closed Wednesday at $3.69, up nearly fourfold, thanks to strong numbers from NFL.com (which Sportsline produces) and the company actively buying back its shares. ... MSNBC.com unveiled a sharp new look for Olympics.com, the official site for the Winter Games in Salt Lake City, 77 days away. Pages for athletes are insightful, detailing how Russian coach Viktor Tikhonov inexplicably took the bronze medal that should have gone to Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin after the 1992 Olympics. A map of the Olympic torch relay shows it will reach Orlando on Dec. 7. ... A poll at Buccaneers.com asked how many wins the team would need to make the playoffs, and 55 percent chose 10, meaning Tampa Bay would need to win six of its remaining seven, including Monday at St. Louis. An optimistic 10 percent think the Bucs can sneak in at 8-8.
-- If you have a question or comment about the Internet or a site to suggest, e-mail staff writer Greg Auman at firstname.lastname@example.org.