Net Effect: Yahoo Sports scores the upset

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NEW YORK -- Yahoo Sports knocked off ESPN in August to become the most-visited online sports destination, thanks in part to its acquisition of college sports network Rivals.com.

According to Nielsen//NetRatings, Yahoo edged ESPN by about 200,000 unique visitors in August, finishing the month with 18.4 million visitors. Yahoo continued to be the leader in September, as far as weekly metrics, with nearly 12 million visitors for the week ending Sept. 23, about 3 million more than ESPN.

A big reason for this has been Rivals.com, a network of 110 college sports and other high school sites that Yahoo acquired in late June for about $100 million. Jimmy Pitaro, GM and vp of Yahoo Sports, said that Rivals in August brought about 1 million additional visitors to Yahoo, which admittedly was “short staffed” as far as college sports before the acquisition.

“The integration of the Rivals property has been pretty seamless,” Pitaro said. “There’s massive integration throughout our college sites, and our users are clicking over at a pretty nice rate.”

Pitaro said Yahoo has not and does not intend to make any changes to Rivals content but will continue to ramp up integration and promotion.

The start of the pro football season Sept. 6 also keyed an increase in visitors to Yahoo Sports. It had fewer than 7 million users for the week ending Aug. 5, but the number grew steadily to nearly 13 million by the week ending Sept. 16, just as the site’s 4 million fantasy football players were busy drafting and ordering their rosters.

“They’re an incredibly engaged, passionate and focused sports audience,” Pitaro said. “They consume a lot of pages online, and they also interact very nicely with the site, not just on the fantasy products.”

Two days before the pro season started, though, one of Yahoo’s servers failed, locking players out of drafts scheduled for that day. Pitaro said Yahoo “immediately caught” the malfunction and sent e-mails to all the users and rescheduled the drafts for the same time the next day. He said fantasy numbers “remained stable” despite the mishap.

Pitaro also said that Yahoo would be unveiling “innovations” for its fantasy football offering toward the end of the season. He didn’t offer details, though.

Yahoo has 9 million total fantasy users including players in NFL, MLB and NBA leagues. The company declined to say how many paying fantasy members it has.

Nielsen//NetRatings is owned by the Nielsen Co., parent company of the Hollywood Reporter.
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