- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2007

Yahoo Inc. yesterday said it has agreed to purchase Rivals.com, a network of Web sites related to high school and college athletics, in a deal that merges two of the Internet’s most popular destinations for sports fans.

The $100 million acquisition expands Yahoo’s already vast sports offerings while providing the Rivals network with greater visibility and marketing prowess.

“The Rivals focus has been at the local level, while Yahoo’s focus has been at the national level,” said Jimmy Pitaro, general manager of Yahoo Sports. “This was a perfect complement to what we were already doing.”

Yahoo, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., is the No. 3 Web portal in the United States, attracting more than 57 million unique home visitors each week, according to Nielsen NetRatings. Much of the site’s traffic is funneled through a broad array of sports content, including fantasy games, news and message boards.

Brentwood, Tenn.-based Rivals.com, which has 185,000 paid subscribers, is the most popular online destination for information about high school and college sports recruiting. The company operates about 150 different Web sites, attracting 2 million fans each month and forming numerous avid online communities.

The deal with Yahoo and Rivals.com comes after similar acquisitions by competitor Fox Sports, which bought Scouts.com, and CBS, which bought Maxpreps.com.

Yahoo entered into a licensing agreement to use Rivals.com content last year. Rivals.com also provides content to a number of Web sites, including SI.com, USAToday.com, AOL Sports and SportingNews.com.

“Very soon after we entered that partnership, we realized there were bigger possibilities,” Pitaro said. “We’d been talking to these guys for well over a year.”

Pitaro acknowledged the company could have saved money by publishing its own college and high school content but said doing so would require hiring 200 reporters and would take at least two years with no guarantee of success.

Rivals.com officials, meanwhile, said they had received numerous overtures to be bought by other companies but agreed to the Yahoo deal because of the company’s size and reach. Executives said they do not expect any immediate changes to user experience.

“Obviously, they have the marketing capacity that we’ve never had,” said Bobby Burton, chief operating officer for Rivals.com. “Their ability to get the word out is unparalleled. They have a vision to be the number one property in sports, and we want to be a part of that.”