SBJ/December 5 - 11, 2005/Media

Rivals.com strikes deal with AOL

Rivals.com last week signed a content distribution deal with America Online designed to take its in-depth college sports and recruiting news beyond its largely underground following.

Rivals will provide more than 100 articles
per week to AOL’s Web sports portal.

The two-year agreement calls for the subscriber-based Rivals to provide more than 100 articles per week to AOL’s Web sports portal, where users will be able to access them for free, as well as several daily video clips on football and basketball recruiting. The deal is the first of its kind for the closely held Rivals.com.

“This provides far-reaching distribution to a new audience for us,” said Shannon Terry, Rivals.com chief executive. “They have valuable real estate online and we have valuable content. It makes for a great relationship.”

Financial terms were not disclosed.

Rivals.com, quietly subsisting to date largely on a dedicated following of 150,000 paid subscribers and grassroots marketing, boasts some of the stickiest sports content on the Internet. September figures from Nielsen/Net Ratings showed Rivals.com users averaging 1 hour, 15 minutes on the site per visit, second among sports sites to CBS Sports-Line.com, which boasts a strong NFL fantasy football following.

AOL, on the other hand, has the sheer mass of eyeballs, generating about 9 million unique visitors per month to its sports area, while Tennessee-based Rivals.com attracts 1.7 million.

The agreement also provides a key pillar of content for AOL as it continues to morph from its original core business as a subscription-based Internet service provider into a free and open Web portal.

“As we try to keep bulking up what we’re doing on the Web, we’re finding our demographics are getting younger, and college sports was an area where we were weak,” said Carlos Silva, senior vice president, AOL Sports.

Silva also said he intends to use the Rivals.com content as a promotional tool and for AOL.com’s extensive efforts around March Madness.

The Rivals deal is the latest in a flurry of action surrounding college sports Web properties. In August, News Corp. announced a purchase of Scout Media, a competing provider of college sports and recruiting news, for $50 million. Then last month CBS bought CSTV and its College Sports Online business for $325 million in stock. All appeal to diehard college fans and displaced alumni who have trouble finding deep levels of content on their favorite schools through traditional media.

The Rivals.com-AOL agreement is non-exclusive, and Terry said other distribution deals may soon be forthcoming.

With Internet advertising on an upswing, the company is making a push to increase that revenue stream, as it recently opened a New York advertising sales office and hired Deirdre GaNun, former senior account executive for ESPN.com, to lead it.

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