About two decades ago the world wide web changed how college sports fans gained their news. Local newspapers did an okay job covering colleges, but the professional teams were their focus and both college and high schools coverage was always a day late and a bit lacking in some areas. (History is repeating itself)
20 years ago Rivals captured a niche market early on prior to the current internet we know as die hard fans wanted to know about the latest and greatest prospects their schools are recruiting. After about 3 years and the acquisition of AllianceSports, the umbrella company of Rivals Network was about to cease operations in 2001 and give way to Scout.com. However executives from AllianceSports purchased the Rivals.com assets and subsequently relaunched the website that it would sell 5 years later to Yahoo. At one point, some key employees from Rivals and Scout worked together as one operation in the original Rival Networks offices until the network was resurrected from potential bankrupt in 2001 during the dotcom bust by venture capital funding. Scout Media was started in 2001, with a couple dozen Rivals employees. Eventually Fox purchased Scout for $60 million in August 2005.
Thus many of the same people have been using the same style to buy and obtain Email and client lists to sell consumers recruiting information that is obsolete in many circles. Especially the star system that has been flawed for nearly over a decade as new algorithms have replaced stars. In addition the emphasis on college camps rather than corporate sponsored underwear olympics have made it more realistic for the athletes that are being evaluated. College coaches rather than journalists are doing the real ratings and rankings that often are not shared and are proprietary. The fear has been that some coaches do all the work to offer an athlete while other colleges just follow another schools lead in hopes that player will attend their camp for in depth analysis. It is not uncommon for an athlete to use social media to state an offer and a few days later have another team within the conference also make a blind offer based on the original schools determination to extend an offer.
Today any social media APP or account has the same information for FREE! So we are seeing another shift in media and a decrease in both paid subscription fees and local FREE content as consolidation of newspapers again are at the mercy of venture capitalists out to make a profit. Adverting pays the bills but the content has to have value otherwise a loss in subscriptions causes a dip in revenue and budget cuts or consolidation as we have seen again in recent years.
Initially Rivals revenue was solely from advertising, Rivals.com later employed a subscription fee of $10.00 per month to users for access to the latest recruiting news and to participate in various message boards dedicated to schools covered by the network. The media market shift gave way to competition and an online advertiser buying the site.
Today’s world of college football recruiting has shifted dramatically as some recruits think star rankings determined by online subscription services such as ESPN, Rivals, Scout and 247Sports really matters. The truth is all these websites are selling space and stories to hard-core fans of individual high school or college teams to make a buck. Rivals built the first monetized reporting on college and high school recruiting by hiring contract Web operators and reporters with a huge alumni bases that got massive hits, now called “Clicks”. Rivals was an online product launched in 1998 and was later sold to employees out of near bankruptcy. Rivals 2.0 was born and short lived as the dot com Yahoo seeking to enter the market bailed out Rivals again for a reported $100 Million.
"Their hope: revive the Rivals.com concept in a sleeker, more profitable format. Call it Rivals.com, version two. After all, if Rivals.com couldn't make it work with more than $70 million in venture capital dollars funding, why would anyone think it might work now for $100 Million?
Rivals for a decade operated like a cable network in that they have two revenue streams in advertising and the subscription model. Advertising was NOT a strong suit for Rivals 1.0 or Rivals 2.0 and Yahoo had a strong footprint in the advertising space thus the buyout to avoid replicating team websites with 200-700 local journalists in each of the markets is what Yahoo coveted. Yahoo launched Rivals 3.0 in an attempt to eliminate a competitor and replicating the same business model. Also Yahoo projected an annual $20 million dollar cash flow to its bottom line to appease uneasy stock holders. The Rivals acquisition gave Yahoo a larger audience than ESPN. and Scout.com as it entered the sports publishing Membership Group arena. Eventually the media group Fox bought Scout, only to be later acquired by CBS in February 2017 out of bankrupt. Scout was rebranded under the CBS interactive umbrella but has given way to its other property247Sports.com. CBS now owns Rivals main competitors in, 247Sports.com, Scout.com and MaxPreps. Each division has over 300 web sites that publish inside and exclusive content for a subscription fee that focuses on high school and college Sports while CBS focus’ on Fantasy Sports. Yahoo might have paid a premium years ago but everyone remembers number one in Rivals.com. Since the rollercoaster of 1998 to current and in 20 years CBS might have been the last one to the party, but they accumulated Rivals.com’s main competitors in Maxpreps, 247Sports.com and in 2017 Scout.com. So the consolidation continues as the landscape of media has changed. In 2017 Scout.com was basically dormant and forwards to 247Sports.com’s website. Meanwhile ESPN too has had their own recruiting network and is often forgotten as the focus into the college sports/recruiting space was clouded by both Rivals and Scout fighting legal battles and affiliates jumping ship to ensure publishing revenues. The $10 a month fee or annual $100 if paid in advance website business models stayed intact as anyone with a laptop could earn monies to write stories as journalists over night became talent evaluators. However, ESPN took a different approach than the other sites. It did not employ anyone with a microphone recording device and an area footprint. ESPN originally went to regional coverage via their college game day reporters and eventually partnered via a sponsorship with (UA) Under Armour to provide a high school game and camp series to rival the former US Army high school game and its camp kids.
(On a side note the US Army is no longer the title sponsor in 2019) The two remaining games are being called the All American Bowl and All American Game to both be played in January 2019. Rumor is UA will be pulling out after a dismal couple of years in the apparel business. In addition the inaugural early signing period in December 2017 has diminished the once popular high school games where high school players announced their verbal commitments prior to NLI or better known as National signing day on the first Wednesday in February.
In 2006 ESPN began a Recruiting Database and used its college football on-air talents on September 8, 2006 to debut, ESPNU Recruiting Insider that formed the ESPN150 rankings. Eventually these would become the ESPN300 after working closely with a marketing company that secured annual corporate sponsorships. A few different corporate names sponsored and paid for the rights to be the title sponsor of the High School Showcase in 2005 which featured high school football and high school basketball games generally on a Friday night on the newly created ESPNU channel. ESPNU in late 2006 switched to cover college basketball limiting the channel’s opportunities to cover high school contests and ESPN switched the high school content to the online streaming service broadcast known as ESPN3. The same network that streams lower level college contests late at night.
So Life was good 20 years ago but everyone clambering for college football recruiting information should know these companies are based on generating revenue! Well a noble idea to expand the lack of coverage in rural areas but just remember Rivals almost went defunct in 2001 during the collapse of the dot-com era. So for all the athletes but mostly parents focused on these websites that report or use stars for college football recruiting you now understand how stars and ranking are created. They are based on hundreds of content and subscription based websites that attend a few area camps to gain potential clients information to sell them a subscriptions. Now in lean times they have to try to justify their content with composite scores after players make commitments if (VIP) stories do not lure fans via “Click Bait”. What many are unaware of is Rivals almost went defunct in 2001 during the collapse of the dot-com era and gave birth to Scout.com that went belly up. In the end some say stars are a way to reward online publication subscribers for paying annual fees or attending their apparel sponsored event to take a snap shot of an athlete and target him or her on social media to view the story. Now adding the video concept from fans is a sleeker, more profitable format. Call it a pipe dream but anything might work now as people are willing to pay for stars!
Tension between Rivals, ESPN and CBS will continue as Recruiting is more accepted as part of college football, but paid subscriptions have to subsidize advertising revenues as paid content may become a dinosaur like 900 numbers and pagers of 30 years ago. Nielsen/ Net Ratings have given way to “Clicks” and in todays marketplace cord cutting is on the rise limiting access to cable channels ESPN and CBS in favor of online content and APPS. While the future of rating players will continue to be college coaches at their institutions, the remaining media and Recruiting focused websites will have to be creative to retain subscribers.
Serious conversations with media executives about televising high school games on the company’s regional networks domains or APPs is a must. Discussing various models ranging from regional game-of-the-week telecasts to airing showcase games and the state playoffs is the only way many will survive reporting on high school recruiting and perhaps college. The final three media outlets did not purchase the competition to be status quo. They did this to put their TV money behind it and make money. Syndication is not dead just in a new format that includes social media platforms like Facebook LIVE, Twitter via Periscope and YouTube that has been a leader in video content and owned by Google. YouTube earns advertising revenue from Google AdSense, a program which targets ads according to site content and audience. Remember Rivals original platform and its competitors has been to sell advertising to pay the bills. Similar to newspapers back in the day that now complain about loosing revenue and have shifted to online subscriptions to compete with APPs and the world wide web.
The future is now and survival of the fittest.So enjoy the remaining three conglomerates but let us hope they enhance the excitement and experience of high school and college reporting. For now many will hope they give us our monies worth if they continue to charge a fee for something that should be FREE. Just like the old days content should be paid for by corporate sponsorships so we can sit back and relax and enjoy our teams success stories and daily trends.
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