By GREG AUMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 12, 2001
The strength of the Rivals.com network of sports Web sites was the network's ability to bring together more than 600 team sites from around the country. So it's no surprise the Seattle company's decision to shut down this week had a ripple effect to the Tampa Bay area.
"This couldn't come at a worse time," said Clearwater's Ron Collins, who owns mutinyfans.com and was anticipating increased traffic this weekend with the Tampa Bay Mutiny's home opener Saturday.
His site, like several in the area associated with Rivals.com, will carry on in a different capacity, but the immediate future remains uncertain. The network's servers still were operating Wednesday night, but the company behind them -- one that reportedly used up more than $70-million in investment capital -- laid off its final 80 employees Tuesday and closed up shop.
For fans looking for their favorite team online, Rivals.com had been the next best thing to teams' official sites -- better, by some standards. Most of the sites carry two addresses: a regular one, such as http://wwww.gatorcountry.com, and a Rivals-based parallel to which fans are redirected, such as http://www.florida.rivals.com. Many sites encouraged fans Wednesday to change their bookmarks from the latter to the former.
Some of Rivals.com's most popular sites were about college football, and recruiting season was a busy time at Florida's gatorcountry.com, South Florida's http://www.usfinsider.com, Florida State's http://www.warchant.com and Miami's http://www.canesfootball.com.
"It's been tough for the last few weeks, with a new rumor every day," said Tallahassee's Gene Williams, a 35-year-old FSU graduate who linked with Rivals.com two years ago.
Pro teams had fan sites with Rivals.com, too. Buccaneer Magazine's site is http://www.bucmag.com. Lightning fans have a home at http://www.boltsmag.com, which joined the network in February.
"I wish I knew when Rivals was going to flip the switch," said Palm Harbor's Eric Keaton, who runs the hockey site. "I've been getting a horde of e-mails from other site publishers, and I'd say 70 to 80 percent of the sites are going to stay together, the hockey sites as one network, the college sites as another and so on."
By linking sites, Rivals made it easy for fans to find and move among its affiliate sites. Collins said that when the Mutiny played a preseason scrimmage with Glasgow Celtic in January, his site was besieged by traffic from fans in Scotland.
This sleepy little site that gets 300 hits a day was suddenly getting 7,000 and 8,000 hits a day," Collins said. "This was a great place to network with others, even if it was just talking smack with Miami (Fusion) fans."
With Rivals.com folding, there's no way to know how long sites carrying its name will continue to operate. To be safe, visit them through their title names, where most operated before linking up with the Rivals network.
florida.rivals.com ... gatorcountry.com
floridastate.rivals.com ... warchant.com
southflorida.rivals.com ... usfinsider.com
miami.rivals.com ... canesfootball.com
devilrays.rivals.com ... draysdugout.com
buccaneers.rivals.com ... bucmag.com
lightning.rivals.com ... boltsmag.com
mutiny.rivals.com ... mutinyfans.com
magic.rivals.com ... omagic.net
-- GREG AUMAN