Seattle, which as home to Microsoft, Nirvana, Starbucks and even
Frasier has arguably had more influence on this decade than any
other American city, has a new weapon in its pop-consciousness
arsenal. In August, Jim Heckman, a 34-year-old former publisher
of a University of Washington fanzine, launched www.rivals.com.
"We're like a Disneyland for fans," says Heckman.
In truth, Heckman's fast-growing site, already one of the most
popular sportals on the Web, is more like a smorgasbord,
offering reports on more than 425 professional and college
teams. Heckman's idea was to find a local beat reporter who
covers a school or team, preferably for a fanzine whose readers
crave inside information, and give him his own page. "The deal
we make with [the writers] is that we split the ad revenue that
appears on their page 50-50," says Heckman. "There used to be an
economic barrier for beat guys, guys like me, to get the word
out worldwide. Now we're breaking down that barrier."
Heckman hopes to expand www.rivals.com to 1,000 sites by New
Year's Day. "Pro sports is big, but our emphasis is on college
teams," he says. "I understood how big this could be when within
the first month of posting a University of Wyoming page, we had
10,000 hits on that site." Last month, according to Nielsen/
NetRatings, the most viewed sites were gators.rivals.com (the
University of Florida site), accessed by 5% of www.rivals.com
viewers, followed by pennstate.rivals.com and alabama.rivals.com
With 384,000 monthly visitors, rivals.com doesn't yet have the
reach of, say, ESPN.com (3.7 million visitors) or CNNSI.com (1.4
million). But Heckman does compete aggressively with the larger
sites for profits. Since raising more than $30 million in
backing earlier this year, Heckman hired David Cooper, formerly
an ad sales executive at ESPN.com. According to Nielsen,
www.rivals.com has a 76% male viewership, and at an average of
48.5 minutes per monthly viewer, it's the "stickiest" (measuring
length of time spent on site) sportal on the Web. Those numbers
will only make Cooper's job easier--and Heckman wealthier.
"The economic scene in Seattle is obscene," says Heckman, one of
many millionaires in the Emerald City not yet old enough to run
for president. "Since we launched, I've never taken a calculator
to figure out my own net worth. Right now I'm just keeping my
eye on the ball."
By acquiring the rights to NASCAR's second-half-of-the-season
events beginning in 2001, the network fills the Sunday void
created when it lost the NFL to CBS last year.
Without NASCAR, the cable channels forfeit coverage of 26 races
a year and a sport they zealously promoted (1,200 hours of
racing-related telecasts annually).
rivals.com has found a Net niche