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 (4% each).
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."