December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM is a content champ, but needs to set itself apart from brick competitors

When my teenage boys and I go out for sporting goods, my wife begs off; she knows the quest will take hours. There’s so much cool stuff. So it’s no wonder that when I set out to review, I was like a kid tearing through Wonkaland. is a sporting goods e-retailer founded in December 1999. At the helm are three modern-day sports legends: former Denver Bronco Quarterback John Elway is chairman, while hockey great Wayne Gretzky and Chicago Bulls’ superstar Michael Jordan are directors; all three serve as athletic advisors. MVP has hired and partnered with retail expertise.

The site is easy to navigate and has links on the homepage to privacy information, its toll-free customer service number and the credit cards it accepts. Its 60,000 products can be searched by 40 activity categories, 19 departments (such as women, children or footwear) or 600 brands. Once in a category, say softball bats, the listings can be displayed by function (slow pitch or fast pitch), manufacturer or price. Gomez Advisors, Lincoln, Mass., ranked second overall and third for ease of use in the sporting goods category on its summer scorecard.

The site is King of Contentland. For each product, there is advice on how to choose the right gear and how to use it. For example, under in-line skating there are instructions for buying the proper skates for different types of skating (recreational, hockey or aggressive), and simple but informative instructions on how to skate. Under baseball gloves there is useful advice for breaking in a glove and how to select the proper webbing for different positions. Visitors can email MVP with further questions. I tried to come up with a toughie: Do aftermarket spacers offer inline skaters any benefits? In three hours I had a concise answer in my email inbox.

It’s so real

Product descriptions are brief and great for a novice. Some, however, were a bit over-the-top. The $300 DiMarini softball bat description said “prepare for Armageddon” and “This is the ultimate bat for players who want to layeth the smacketh down on their opponents.” I was more interested in learning about the alloy shell and the degree of end-loading (how much of the bat’s weight is at the end of the barrel) than how much smacketh down I could layeth. But overall, the descriptions are informative. MVP also has a loyalty program giving shoppers $25 off per $250 spent.

The drawbacks to are the same as those of a sporting goods superstore. MVP’s prices are in line with local stores. And, hard-to-find items are still hard to find. I was browsing for a baseball mitt for my left-handed son, and found that, like in a real store, most of the gloves are for right-handers. had the pricey Nokona gloves my son has been dreaming about in different lengths (something we could not find in stores), but none for lefties. There are similar limitations to shoe sizes. The adequate selection of size-9 running shoes for my younger son was about what you would expect in stores, but finding size-12 metal baseball cleats was another story.

There were several items I was surprised to find MVP did not carry. Snow ski boots and a bike/ski rack for my truck are high on my wish list. However, neither was available. But, MVP says that, unlike brick-and-mortar stores, the site offers seasonal items year-round. I agree, there’s no point in looking for size-12 cleats at my local superstore in January.

Without objects to hold and smell (ahh, glove leather) becoming an abandon-cart statistic was easy (which made my wife happy). I’m unlikely to walk out of a store with a $300 bat, but I could come easily away with a $20 hockey stick for the upcoming roller hockey season (which would have made my wife unhappy). Overall, MVP’s brands and selection are above average, but their A-game is played in the content arena.

- Time to load homepage (with T1 line): 5 seconds

- Time between pages: 9 seconds

- Total clicks to merchandise: 1 click for general items, 2 clicks for specific items.

- Site features: logical layout makes items easy to find, but content is its shining star.

- Ease of contacting company: 24-hour, toll-free number at the bottom of every page.

- Ease of ordering and paying: buy button on each product page; shopping cart and the four credit cards accepted are on every page.

- Privacy/payment policies: links on every page in left-hand box.

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