Recruiting sites’ business model, explained:
… It’s an online environment unique to college sports, which are intrinsically rooted in an element that many of the writers and publishers of these subscription sites say is the driver of the whole business: hope.
Distill this whole thing down, and that’s what you’re left with. To cover a recruiting cycle or a coaching search is to cover hope—and those are the two biggest drivers of traffic for most sites in the Rivals and 247 networks. Games are great, but college football delivers the fewest of any major sport, which leaves a ton of time to fill. “Most teams are guaranteed 12 games,” says J.C. Shurburtt, who first joined Rivals as a recruiting analyst in 2004 and now owns and edits the South Carolina 247 site after serving as 247’s national recruiting director from 2010 to ’15. “Some play 13, 14, 15. So that leaves 350 to 353 days out of the year to be passionate about your team. Most of the focus during that time is on roster personnel, what’s going to happen in the future and then, in a lot of cases, hope.
“College football teams, they don’t play exhibitions. They don’t do scrimmages. They … play very few games. I think, what are you going to do for the rest of your time? We’ve kind of solved that. That’s the thing.”
In other words, some of us have too much time on our hands. And what better way to fill that for some by wedding what’s on the back of the jersey to what’s on the front?
“The college fan is way more intense than NFL,” Heckman continues. “That’s the school that accepted you, right? … It’s family. These guys accepted me, so I want that team which represents me and my self-worth to be successful. People are very personal. A lot of people met their spouses at the games and tailgates, right, so the fanaticism [is personal].” He has a corollary to that theory specifically about recruiting. When a great player picks a school, he says, fans aren’t happy simply because their team improved. “That player validates you as a person,” Heckman says. “This person thinks [my school is] cool. He’s a great player and that validates me. It’s a totally different level that people don’t understand.”
If you think that sounds a little pathetic, consider this premise:
Talk to enough of the guys—and that’s what they were for the most part, young and middle-aged white men—who were on the scene when the idea for Rivals was hatched, and the conversation is bound to head toward porn. There were just too many parallels back then: The company that handled the 900 numbers mostly dealt with college football and porn. The men who posted video to the early servers streamed through hours of college football and porn. They are, as Heckman says, two things people are willing to spend “an irrational amount of money on.”
Hmmm. Maybe I should spend more time here following recruiting. (I keed, I keed… I think.)