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Post A suggestion for Rivals and Scout

Wednesday September 19, 2007

There’s news this week that the New York Times is dropping its Times Select "paywall" which placed a subscription barrier in front of columnists and archives. There is also speculation that the Wall Street Journal, one of the few remaining high-profile newspapers charging for online content, might follow suit under the new ownership of News Corp.

With this news, I couldn’t help but think about Rivals.com and Scout.com. These two networks dominate the niche of college team and recruiting news, and they have succeeded with a subscription-based model. This model was a very natural fit for these networks because they grew out of the 900-numbers and magazines that covered college sports and recruiting in the 1990s. Fans were used to paying for niche coverage of their teams. A much younger Rivals.com experimented with advertising-supported content around 2000, but both sites settled on the much more reliable subscription model after the shakeout in 2001.

I’m not bringing this up to suggest that Rivals and Scout drop their subscription model. It’s working for them. I do have one suggestion though: open up the archives.

It’s been nearly ten years since AllianceSports and TheInsiders networks launched around 1998. Following some name changes and the Web bubble, both networks have been relatively stable and archiving content consistently since 2001. At UGASports.com, this archive goes back into 1998. Among newspapers, only the Athens Banner-Herald offers archives as easy to search and navigate. Subscribers come mainly for current content – what happened in the last game, which recruit will announce this weekend, who are the best high school prospects this year, and so on. But there is also a wider audience of more casual sports fans with interests in a specific player or news story from the past. The sites are already destinations for news, but they could also become important research resources and the "archives of record" for college sports news. Archives can also be an effective marketing tool showing off the depth and quality of coverage that a site offers.

The Times "discovered" what many had warned them about before attempting Times Select:

In a statement, the paper said more users were coming to the site through search engines, instead of directly visiting NYTimes.com. Removing the subscription barrier to content available under Times Select will result in a boost in traffic and advertising revenue from that increase will replace the money that once came from subscriptions, it said.

In another ten years, think about the information that will be locked away behind these subscription paywalls at Rivals and Scout. You’ll be able to take an NFL Hall-of-Famer, look back to the end of his high school career, piece together his college decision, and follow his entire college career before he became a pro superstar. That information might already be out there in various places, but the databases and content management systems at Rivals and Scout pull it all together in one place. That’s just one application for the content and data.

It’s a completely different type of sports fan from the obsessive guy looking for instant news and updates on his favorite team. It’s also a group that probably won’t invest a month’s subscription to satisfy a few curiosities. As the Times found, they will arrive by search engines with a specific query in mind.

Rivals (Yahoo) and Scout (Fox Interactive Media) now both have partners with the experience in the online world to recognize that they have an opportunity in the years of content currently trapped behind their paywalls. Open up the archives, enjoy the increased flow from search engines and writers, and show off your networks to a wider base of sports fans.

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  • […] I wrote a few weeks ago that the New York Times has recently opened up its archives after years behind a paywall.  One of the more popular applications to come of this opening of a rich historical trove is to look for the first mention of everyone and everything from Hitler to Britney Spears. […]