Sky keep schtum on rapid Rivals ruin

Here’s a story that you won’t have seen on Sky Sports News in the last few weeks.

The channel which claims to keep fans fully informed and employs pretty presenters to deliver cutting edge news from the condition of the lawnmower blades at Hartlepool to opinions on Ronaldo’s new car by a bloke who once used the same airport as the Portuguese winger.

Two weeks ago, without any warning whatsoever, Sky closed their Rivals.net online football community. The news didn’t flash across the bottom of the screen in lurid yellow, because it would have caused them embarrassment.

They didn’t hype it up and invent a name like ‘Web Crash Thursday’ - to be read out by a man with a deep voice between adverts for loan companies in Dewsbury. They did nothing.

"BREAKING NEWS! The autocues are broken!" 

Since 2000, Rivals/Sky had hosted fan sites for all 92 clubs, including the website of our own United We Stand.

I remember the first meeting with Rivals at a hotel in Manchester, during that first flush of enthusiasm for all things online. Free drinks were offered and the editor of the Rochdale site, who was clearly coming to terms with this t’internet lark, drank so many that he fell off his chair.  

Rivals was then owned by the Chrysalis media group, but when it didn’t meet their financial expectations, ownership was passed to the 365 group. They cut costs by shifting the backroom staff to Cape Town.

The servers were sometimes painfully slow, the message board design clunky and there was much room for improvement. But some sites, like UWS and Everton’s When Skies Are Grey, were extremely popular.

Over the days that the Glazer takeover was announced in May 2005, our site had 320,000 hits.

Our priority has always been the printed edition, but Rivals/Sky paid us a bit each month (well, they were supposed to but their administration was frequently less than efficient) and I used that money to pay red writers for original content.

In turn, they used that money to buy match tickets and travel to games. Not that Sky has much consideration for fans who actually go to matches.

Sky blamed Rivals' poor commercial performance for their decision. Fine, that’s business and there’s plenty of others trying to work out how not to lose money from the web.

But could they not have given even a day’s notice so that we and the 91 other publishers could inform our readers who have been with us for nine years?

Instead, visitors to any of the sites were met with the poorly phrased message ‘Rivals.net is currently unavailable’. And they had no idea why.

"Huh? Unavailable?" 

My inbox was full of readers complaining that they couldn’t access the website. 

We set up a new temporary message board and many of our regulars soon figured out how to find us. And about a week after they’d cut us off, Sky finally redirected our web address.

Thankfully, most of the persistent spammers offering Xboxes for a pound and the low life terminal abusers with user names likes ‘Munich58’ and ‘DuncanEdwardsisdead’ have yet to come across to our online refugee camp.

If they do, they’ll be no Red Cross waiting to greet them, but plenty of cross reds.

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