FIGHTING OFF THE COMPETITION:
MATCH.COM AND THE ONLINE DATING INDUSTRY
Cara Peters and Marilyn Okleshen
Today‟s young adults are very focused on their careers. Their love lives often are less of a
priority, according to the popular press. For example, Inc. Magazine profiled Holly Dunlap, a 32
year-old female business owner as someone working long hours with no time for lunch, let alone
a boyfriend. “Such is the catch-22 of many singles who run their own firms. They work so
much they don‟t have time to find a mate. And often without someone waiting on the other side
of the dinner table, there‟s no incentive to shut down the computer and go home.”1
Because of lifestyles similar to that of Holly Dunlap, the online dating service Match.com
emerged from the dot-com bubble as a lucrative endeavor touting an unrivaled customer base.
Under the leadership of CEO Tim Sullivan, Match.com became the market leader through
product innovation, international expansion, and strategic alliances. However, as the online
dating industry matured, Match.com faced a growing number of competitors on a variety of
fronts. As the firm changed leadership, the new CEO, Jim Safka, had to address the increasing
competition. With over 45 million potential customers in the marketplace, Match.com looked to
increase the ways in which its members could find that perfect someone in order to remain
competitive. But the question remained: Were the firm‟s efforts enough to protect its leadership
position in the industry?
Practically everyone has experienced dating in one fashion or another. Some have found it to be
easy, while others have found dating to be a significant challenge. According to a study
conducted by www.TopDatingTips.com, in 2004 a single person was typically looking for
someone who matched his/her unique interests. When daters were asked to choose the most
important features in a potential match, they ranked personality (30%), sense of humor (14%),
smile (12%), looks (11%), eyes (10%), and education (7%) as key criteria. When asked the
maximum acceptable age gap within a couple, 44% indicated that five years was best, 24% felt
ten years was acceptable, and mere 8% indicated that age was not relevant to their decision
TopDatingTips.com identified the significant obstacles daters faced in finding a prospective
partner. For instance, 88% reported that it was "difficult" to find someone. Moreover, 59%
found it “quite” or “very difficult” to meet new people. When asked to select the best place to
meet a potential date, work (22%) was the most popular response, while the Internet (18%), bars
(18%), and clubs (11%) were frequently reported. (It should be noted that this was an online
survey so the relatively high percentage of respondents favoring the Internet may be inflated due
to a self-selection bias.)
Aggressive professional pursuits and other priorities often translated into trends that saw daters
being single later in life. According to the Census Bureau, in 1970 only 28.3% of the U.S.
population was single. By 2000, that percentage had risen to 40.4%.2 In addition, more married
couples were divorcing, creating an even greater pool of singles. “43% of married couples were
not together within fifteen years, and of those who did stay together, 40% reported they were not
happy in their marriage.”3 These statistics predicted a pattern of continued growth over time in
the number of single daters.
Traditional dating was more challenging than in the past. Meaningful community ties that often
resulted in long-lasting matrimony were disappearing in part due to extensive individual
relocation. Additionally, people who used to search for mates in the workplace feared doing so
because of recent sexual harassment cases.4 Accordingly, singles were looking for new, easy-to-
access dating outlets. Earlier approaches often relied on friends to play matchmaker, going to
bars, or attending social events. In fact, bars and social events were losing their luster because of
fears such as "date rape" drugs. In short, work-laden, mediated lifestyles found in an
environment full of change made traditional dating methods less practical.
Before the Internet, busy singles utilized telephone, newspaper or agency match making services
to help them find love. These were useful in pairing people without the need for a physical
interaction. With telephone services, the user set up a voice mail box and recorded a personal
message about him/her self. Singles searched various mail boxes and contacted anyone who
caught their attention. Similarly, newspaper personal ads provided a way to advertise for a mate.
Typical ads described the dater, who he/she was seeking, and provided a phone number.
Online personals services, also called online dating services, began in 1994 and initially
experienced slow growth. Consumers were not enthusiastic adopters due to network effects (i.e.,
attracting a large number of users). If a personals database contained too few individuals, only a
small number were interested in using a firm. In addition, early on consumers often attached a
negative stigma to online dating services.
By 2004, however, growth was no longer an issue. “The anonymity of the Internet, personal
websites and photo galleries, and the comfort many feel in corresponding through email had
combined to make online dating an acceptable means of meeting people. Take busy, single
people looking for romance, bring them together in a visually stimulating, but safely arm‟s-
length environment, and gone were days of cheesy come-ons in smoke filled bars.”5 In fact, a
survey conducted by Match.com found singles were much more open to the possibilities of
finding love online. In 2003 70% of singles believed it was possible to fall in love with someone
they met online.6
The key to online-dating service success appeared to be a large membership base and a proven
matchmaking formula. Firms such as Match.com gained a competitive advantage by
continuously attracting new members and claiming to possess an expansive database of
prospective singles, leveraging network effects. Others, such as eHarmony.com, built a
competitive advantage on patented, scientific matchmaking software. To appeal to new singles,
nearly every online dating site offered limited free trial memberships allowing users to register,
post profiles, specify what they seek in a match, and send e-mails. After the trial period ended,
users paid a monthly fee.
One of the main objectives for any online dating provider was to have prospective daters create a
personal profile. Each site accomplished this uniquely, but all had a common agenda in helping
users find someone who was compatible. Profiles varied in size and scope; often more expensive
services had "psychologist created" measurement tools underlying their matching process. In
most cases, the user could post pictures on his/her profile, though the number was usually limited
to less than ten. Furthermore, pictures were required to be "tasteful."
After creating a profile, users defined those certain aspects desired in a match and based their
database search on these criteria in order to find those who sparked their interest. When users
found an individual they wished to contact, there were several follow-through methods. The first
was to send an open-ended email. A second was to contact a prospect by sending him/her teaser
emails that say things such as “If you were an animal, what kind would you be?” Most sites also
had the option of private instant messaging. A limited number offered chat rooms where
members participated in public conversations with others.
Match.com research found that current online dating site users went on more dates than singles
that did not use such services. “While 49% of singles who have never used an online dating
service report having gone on at least one first date in the last 12 months, 81% of current users of
an online dating service report they have been on at least one first date over the past year.”7
(Again, this was an online survey so the relatively high percentage of respondents favoring
online dating may be inflated due to a self-selection bias.) Online dating sites accepted the
responsibility for making initial matches. Beyond the first date, interactions fell into the domain
of the individual.
Problems with Online Dating Services
Anonymity made online dating sites attractive to consumers, but also created ethical dilemmas.
Individuals had more privacy with this way, but some participants were abusing such services
with “false advertising.” People created profiles with false information and altered or submitted
misleading pictures in hopes of increasing their chances of success. According to industry
analyst Jupiter Research, credibility issues could significantly harm the industry, which was
expected to grow from $398 million in 2004 to $642 million by 2008.8
There were countless popular press accounts detailing individuals who met their match online,
only to find out the person was nothing like his/her Internet description. Males often complained
females used old or doctored photos. Women, on the other hand, complained that married men
used services inappropriately, misrepresenting their availability status.9 In fact, “a recent study
found that as many as 30% of people using online dating sites were married.”10
Accordingly, sites were implementing pre-emptive tactics to detect members who were not
legitimate and forthright. eHarmony.com asked members True-or-False questions including, „I
never tell white lies,‟ to gauge social desirability. Match.com had a six-person “fraud and abuse”
team that investigated reported ethical breaches. In 2004, Match.com‟s Chief Executive, Tim
Sullivan, estimated that as many as 3,000 profiles were immediately rejected because they were
suspect, while another 2,000 were removed because of complaints from other members. Also,
Match.com was currently testing a pilot program giving its members the opportunity to post
“certified” photos indicated as such by an official Match.com time-date stamp.11
Unethical abusers were not the only drawback of an online dating service subscription. One of
the most common fears was the lack of protection against sexual predators. There had also been
a stigma attached to individuals who used these services. “When online dating first emerged in
the mid-90‟s, it carried a certain sleaze factor. It used to be that online dating was reserved for
the socially awkward – the people who really couldn‟t get a date. Add the possibility that the
date might wind up being a geek, stalker, or criminal, and many singles just didn‟t want to take
the chance.”12 Using the Internet to find a date connotated a sense of desperation: clients were
lonely, depressed, unattractive, and had no other options.
Online dating companies have focused their efforts on increasing the public's awareness of their
services and benefits. Match.com believed that public relations should be a large part of its
marketing strategy. As such, the firm persuaded Oprah Winfrey, Katie Couric, and Dr. Phil
McGraw to feature stories about the firm‟s successful matches. The idea behind these public
relations efforts was that an educated public was more likely to adopt the service. Arguably, the
1998 movie You’ve Got Mail served as the industry‟s best public relations campaign. This film
increased general knowledge of online dating and made falling in love with someone online
Recent research also showed an erosion of the online dating stigma. For example, from 2001 to
2002, most matchmaking sites experienced quadrupling revenues. Finally, by 2004, online
dating was the most lucrative segment of the web industry surpassing music, investments, and
entertainment.13 Moreover, two out of five singles had tried dating online.14 A 2003 survey of
Match.com‟s customers found that 81% felt more comfortable talking about online dating in
public than in the previous year.15
Gary Kremen conceived Match.com in 1993 and initially named his company Electric
Classifieds, Inc. At the time the firm was "the leading on-line classifieds advertising technology
outsourcing company and perhaps the most widely accessed „community‟ on the Internet.”16 Mr.
Kremen saw the potential market for online personals. He wrote a business plan and raised over
$8 million from venture capitalists. In 1996 he sold the company to Cedant Corporation again
for $8 million, of which he received $50,000 in cash as well as a lifetime site membership. In
May of 1999 the company changed ownership once more when it was purchased by
Ticketmaster CitySearch for $43 million in stock.17 Ticketmaster, owned and operated by
InterActiveCorp, was a large online and offline multi-brand interactive commerce company with
over 25,000 employees. At the time, InterActiveCorp also owned CitySearch.com,
Expedia.com, Hotels.com, The Home Shopping Network, LendingTree.com, and
Tim Sullivan served as Match.com CEO from 2001 until 2004. Before coming to the firm, Mr.
Sullivan acted as Vice President of E-commerce for Ticketmaster CitySearch and prior to that
worked at the Walt Disney Company as Vice President and Managing Director for Buena Vista
Home Entertainment. Match.com grew substantially under Mr. Sullivan‟s tenure. It became the
recognized leader in online personals. Mr. Sullivan attributed the growth to product innovation,
international expansion (i.e., the acquisition of London based uDate.com in 2003), and strategic
alliances with MSN and AOL.18 The growth generated significant revenue for the firm as shown
in Table 1 and Figure 1.
By early 2004, Match.com was considered the premier online dating site. The company
garnered more than 900,000 paying clients and 12 million consumers worldwide had created
personal profiles on the site. The independent measurement firm ComScore Media Metrix
named Match.com “the world‟s biggest online dating and personals property.”19 By January of
2004, Match.com‟s personals, which included the recent acquisition uDate.com, had over 29.6
million unique visitors, nearly three times as many as its closest competitor.20
Partnering with various firms helped Match.com extend its domain. The firm was responsible
for running personals pages for America Online, Microsoft‟s MSN, BET Interactive, iVillage,
Earthlink, the New York Times, Excite and Oxygen. Furthermore, Match.com partnered with
uDate.com and kiss.com, owned by the common parent company InterActiveCorp. Finally,
Match.com joined Comcast.net in 2003 to provide online personals on Comcast‟s Relationships
Channel. This partnership resulted in a co-branded web site available to the more than five
million Comcast broadband customers.21
In September 2004, Jim Safka became the new CEO of Match.com. Mr. Safka came from
AT&T wireless where he was Vice President and General Manager of E-commerce.22 Figure 2
summarizes the firm‟s background activities over time.
Match.com, one of the oldest online-dating sites originally presented a very basic web storefront
which evolved to encompass numerous options and features. (Figure 3 presents Match.com‟s
homepage in May, 2004.) When first accessing the site, an individual could browse millions of
profiles to locate those of interest. A user could perform search features to narrow down profiles
with respect to sex, age, and location. He/she could also utilize keyword search. A new client
had the option of creating a free profile including a picture. It took up to forty-eight hours for a
new profile to gain approval so that other members could view it. Once a profile was created, a
user could initiate “reverse matching” which would show him/her the current members looking
for someone like him/her.
Over time Match.com grew thanks to its new product development strategy. In the process of
improving its initial website, Match.com added a feature called, “Total Attraction Matching,”
which matched the user on certain preferences indicated in his/her profile. Along with the profile
came the ability to send “winks” to anyone matching given interests. “Winks” served as ice-
breakers. However, this was essentially where the benefits of free membership stopped. If a
client wanted to email someone whom he/she found interesting or respond to someone who had
communicated with him/her, he/she must sign up for full membership and pay a monthly fee. In
2005, Match.com offered one-month subscriptions for $29.99, three-months for $16.99 per
month, and six-months for $12.99 a month. Match.com designed its site so that a new user had to
create a free account in order to access the pricing schedule associated with full membership.
A full paying member had a variety of website options and features at his/her fingertips. For
example, a unique service available to paying members was “Match Mobile.” This service
allowed users to search for dates, send messages, or even flirt with other members using their
AT&T Wireless mobile phones. This service, launched in February 2003, was the first wireless
matchmaking service from any of the leading online dating sites. The mobile phone service
catered to 18-24 year olds and matched users based on geographic location. The service worked
in the same fashion as Match.com's website, but the user was accessing the member database
from his/her her mobile phone.
Match.com unveiled “MatchLive.com” in 2002, another product innovation for full paying
members. This service provided singles the opportunity to participate in events or parties in the
city of their choosing. New York City first hosted MatchLive events, and the services have been
expanded to more than fifty-seven cities in the United States. MatchLive promised to provide
singles with “a range of fun, and often flirtatious, romantic and social opportunities, including
cocktail receptions, a sunset sail, a scavenger hunt, swing and tango lessons, networking events,
cooking classes, neighborhood tours and even bowling.”23 Subscribers paid an extra monthly fee
of $24.95. In addition to receiving access to these in-person gatherings, paying members
received reduced event ticket prices, advance notice of upcoming events, and access to a
comprehensive online calendar.
The following year, Match.com added the ability to allow members to make “friend-based
connections.” Members could create a profile tailored specifically for friends and search for
potential companions who have similar interests and values, like a social networking community.
As part of this service, a member‟s "friends list" was visible when viewing his/her normal dating
profile. According to Match.com, the firm “has provided features that incorporate friends into
the dating process, including a popular feature where members can forward a full page of search
results or a particular member profile to a friend.”24 A December 2003 Match.com survey found
that 45% of its members had developed friendships with people via the site.
In 2004, Match.com started including real-time video to its Match.com messenger. This service
allowed Match.com users to view potential dates “live” via a webcam while sending and
receiving text-based messages. This added value because daters could chat and see each other in
real-time and not be constricted by still photos alone. For its users who did not have webcams,
the company partnered with Logitech to offer a convenient way to order them through
Match.com. Those Match.com members who purchased a Logitech QuickCam received a
special, limited-time promotion of three months free video service access. Furthermore, the real-
time video service was available free on a trial basis of seven days, after which members were
required to pay a $4.95 monthly subscription fee.25
Also in early 2004, Match.com launched its own version of the popular trend speed dating,
“Online SpeedMatching,” combining the Internet and the telephone to let users go on four-
minute virtual dates. Members signed up for a pre-scheduled time online and then logged on to
participate in the event. Users were given a number so their phone call and computer were
synchronized. While engaged in the phone conversation, a profile containing the participants‟
ages, locations, biographies and photos was on their computer screen. By May 2004, Match.com
offered this service in over 57 U.S. cities. In its first six months of operations, over 20,000
singles participated in SpeedMatching. Match.com claimed that 65% of the service‟s
participants made a SpeedMatching connection.26
Another innovation offered by Match.com was its travel service, MatchTravel.com. The site
gave singles the opportunity to meet new people by going on vacations or travel adventures. The
events were set up to include the same ratio of males and females and used a host to facilitate
interaction. The vacations and travel adventures booked through MatchTravel.com typically
entertained groups ranging in size from fifty to more than three hundred. Match.com partnered
with Expedia.com (also owned by Match.com‟s parent company, InterActiveCorp) to create and
host these casual, vacation-oriented opportunities.
Match.com engaged in all forms of marketing communication ranging from TV spots to
corporate sponsorships to online advertising. “We have run television commercials, print ads,
out-of-home advertising, online advertising and email to increase awareness of Match.com."27
Match.com co-sponsored the 2002 Wimbledon tournament in which its name and web address
appeared to millions of television viewers. Match.com‟s advertising campaign highlighted the
success stories of real members and informed singles how many people were using the
company‟s services. According to the firm, “by harnessing word-of-mouth testimonials from
real people who have met through the service and married, Match.com hopes to build its brand as
a relationship site, and to do so with free creative content from its members.”28
The corporation spared no expense in creating publicity. For example, on Valentine‟s Day 2004,
the company held an event in Madrid, Spain, where it displayed a seven metric ton chocolate
heart, breaking the world record for the largest chocolate sculpture by two tons. "Match.com's
record breaking chocolate heart is really a celebration of dating, romance and love, not to
mention the purported aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate, just in time for Valentine's Day," said
Trish McDermott, Match.com's Vice President of Romance and Resident Dating Expert.”29 On
the game day, Ms. McDermott, ran a free hotline for singles with last minute questions and those
in need of dating advice. Ms. McDermott provided insights and perspectives on gift giving, date
night activities, romantic dilemmas, and dating choices.30
Match.com also ran promotions to attract new members to the site. In January 2004, the firm
offered its members the chance to attend a party with fashion guru Diane von Furstenberg. The
event offered dating tips from Match.com dating professionals along with fashion tips tailored to
a variety of dating scenarios, including coffee dates, dinner dates, outdoor dates, or encounters at
a cocktail lounge.31 In August that year, Match.com teamed up with Mercedes Benz USA in an
event where singles test drove a car together to see if they could find a spark. “Wheels of
Attraction” was designed as an extension of Match.com‟s SpeedMatching so that singles
participating in the driving sessions were in essence going on short dates as passengers and
drivers. This event gave Mercedes a memorable way to show off new models and provided
available singles a chance to find a Match.com partner.32
By 2004, there were more than 850 online dating services worldwide. U.S. sites alone garnered
$473 million in total revenues that year.33 In June, Yahoo! Personals saw 6.5 million unique
visitors; Match.com more than 4 million, and eHarmony saw 1.5 million. Among these
competitors, eHarmony attracted the most new members that month.34 Match.com considered
eHarmony, Yahoo! Personals, and LavaLife its primary competition. Table 2 compares
Match.com with these key competitors.
Yahoo! Personals. Yahoo! Personals introduced its services in 1997, and rapidly climbed to the
number two position in the online dating marketplace (behind Match.com). Users of this site
simply needed to have an existing Yahoo! email account before posting personal ads. Profiles
could be created in a few steps and users could add photos, voice messages, and videos. Profiles
were normally approved and posted within 24 hours. Yahoo! Personals attempted matching
potential mates based upon what they put in their personal profile and what they indicated that
they were seeking in a partner. The Mutual Match system allowed a user to be matched with
people that have the same likes and dislikes and would automatically alert members of new
matches so they could send emails on a timely basis.40
Yahoo! Personals users could search the member database with keywords that appeared in a
profile‟s title or description. The more detailed the search criteria, the more precise the results.
Yahoo! Personals also offered a free Personality and Love Style Test in order to find the best
In 2005, Yahoo! introduced a new version of its service, Yahoo! Personals Premier, in an effort
to cater to individuals looking for long-term relationships. Yahoo! Personals Premier
differentiated itself from the competition by offering greater personal choice and smarter tools to
help users find a more meaningful partnership. Premier offered the Relationship Test, a tool that
gave the user a better understanding of what he/she was looking for in a relationship. After
completing the test, the user created a profile that was more in depth than the standard Yahoo!
Personals profile. The user could then access Yahoo!‟s new SmartFit advanced searching and
matching system that generated a better sense of with whom they were most compatible.
Yahoo! Personals required a user to be a paying subscriber to initiate contact with others.
However, a person did not have to be a paying member to reply to a message. The site also
allowed sending short “icebreaker” messages for free. Yahoo! Personals incorporated its popular
Yahoo! Messenger, allowing for instant messaging. Yahoo! Personals subscriptions began at
$24.95 for one month and topped out at $99.95 per year.
eHarmony. eHarmony, founded in 2000 by Pasadena-based relationship expert, Dr. Neil Clark
Warren, capitalized on his 35 years of clinical expertise with the latest software designed to help
people build long-lasting meaningful relationships. Officially launched in August, 2000 and
with over 5 million registered users, eHarmony was the first online relationship service based on
scientific research and an in-depth relationship questionnaire. eHarmony differed from other
dating sites because it required users to fill out a 436 item psychological survey prior to letting
users browse the member database. (These 436 items factor analyzed to 29 key matching
dimensions.) Based on responses, the site actively matched psychologically compatible
members.35 eHarmony, however, unlike other dating sites, offered no instant messaging. “To
initiate contact with someone, you select a list of questions for your match to answer. The next
few steps are progressively more personal, until-if both parties agree-you can communicate
directly.”36 In other words, a user could engage another member with a few rounds of “teaser”
questions including multiple choice options and then progress to open-ended questions. After
completing this exchange, the user could access another member‟s email so he/she could contact
By 2005, eHarmony was adding 10,000-15,000 new members daily. And, according to the site‟s
press room, “on an average day eHarmony receives notice from ten members of an engagement,
marriage or other long-term, committed relationship.”37 The significant growth was attributed
to eHarmony‟s “scientific” approach to matchmaking and word of mouth promotion. eHarmony
argued its competitive advantage was built on identifying important personality factors prior to
making a match. The firm claimed its detailed questionnaire allowed members to know more
about a prospect up front and guaranteed an 80% similarity level between matched clientelle.38
The firm stated that its “goal is to get people in good relationships. We would rather give no
matches than bad matches.”39
eHarmony‟s scientific approach did not come without a significant cost to consumers. The firm
had one of the highest subscription rates in the industry, beginning at $49.95 for one month or
$249.95 for a yearly subscription. eHarmony owned the only patent in the industry for its
personality questionnaire, the Compatibility Matching System.
Lavalife. Lavalife was a privately-held Canadian firm providing online and phone-based dating
services. In contrast to its competitors, Lavalife‟s advantage was in its phone services available
in more than sixty-five markets in North America and Australia. Lavalife, previously known as
Interactive Media Group Limited, began as a small phone-based dating service and achieved
profitability within five years.41 With the growth of e-commerce in the 1990s, Lavalife
purchased the Webpersonals URL and proceeded to launch its web-based services in 1997.
Services on the site were initially free. However, in 1998, Interactive Media Group began
charging users for access and, shortly thereafter, the firm was renamed Lavalife.com.42 In March
of 2004, MemberWorks Inc. of Stamford, Connecticut purchased Lavalife for $152.5 million in
cash with the goal of gaining access to the growing personals market. 43, 44
Unlike other dating firms, Lavalife initially created a chic, hip site targeted toward a younger
demographic. From its inception, “the whole thing is clearly meant to radiate a cool and sultry
lounge atmosphere. The name is meant to echo such a lifestyle with the „lava lamp.‟45 The firm
offered services for three distinct segments: those looking for a date, a relationship, or an
intimate encounter, allowing members to narrow down the field of potential matches.
Initially registering on Lavalife was as easy as creating a profile, one that could include up to ten
photos. Afterwards, Lavalife offered few options for communication among its members. They
could instant message whoever was online; they could send “smiles” to flirt with others; or they
could send an email to someone who sparked their interest.
With respect to fee structure, Lavalife used a credit system. Responding to email and instant
messages within the site was free, but the user purchased credits in advance in order to initiate
contacts. For example, “if a user wishes to buy 50 credits, then the cost will be $14.99.
However, sending a single email to someone costs six credits, though each additional email to
that individual is free.”46
Specialized Interests. In addition to traditional online dating competitors, alternative online
websites were dramatically flourishing. The creators of these sites hoped to take advantage of
those seeking someone with specialized interests who might not be attracted to more mainstream,
traditional online dating service providers. “People are getting more and more specific in what
they are looking for,” says Bill Tancer, Vice President of Research for Hitwise.com, an Internet-
traffic-monitoring company. “Now there are sites like Conservative-Match.com and Liberal
Hearts.com [based on specialized political interests]. There‟s a site called Animal Attraction –
meeting people through their love of pets.”47
Moreover, there was a site designed exclusively for “beautiful” people called
DreamMatches.com, where only attractive individuals could create profiles. Prospective
members submitted their photos to the firm, and after confirmation, members voted as to whether
the person was beautiful enough to become part of the database. There was even a site which
attempted to attract cheaters to sign up, AshleyMadison.com. Its owner thought of the idea after
he came across an article revealing that one-third of online-dating site users were already in
relationships. AshleyMadison.com claimed a membership base of 225,000, though all were not
paying customers since profile creation was free.48
In-Person Services. Many innovative dating services combined in-person and online dating
approaches. According to the popular press, they were growing in popularity also. Two which
had received a lot of publicity were Eight at Eight and It‟s Just Lunch. At Eight at Eight
(8at8.com), an individual created a short profile indicating musical, sports, or other interests.
He/she was then matched with seven other singles similar in age with common interests to attend
a dinner party in their city. Eight at Eight was currently active in twenty cities nationwide.49 Its
Just Lunch (itsjustlunch.com) was a less formal, more relaxed environment in which clients met
other singles from the firm‟s database who demonstrated their specific requirements. These
encounters usually occurred over breaks and all members had to do was to show up at the
specified time; the lunch was fully arranged by the dating service.
Speed-dating services with an Internet presence were also increasing in popularity. In Speed-
dating, a participant went on roughly twenty-five three-to-four minute dates in a single evening.
Firms such as 8minutedating.com and hurrydate.com were key competitors in this domain, along
with local, in-person dating services specific to certain cities. Another hybrid service that was
emerging was cell phone networking. For example, Dodgeball.com offered a unique dating and
friend-making service. When its users “check-in” from a given location, their spot was sent to
pre-selected friends as well as friends-of-friends within a ten-block radius. Photos were sent
along with the notifications. Through their cell phones, groups of near strangers were socially
networked in a casual, real-time, real-world setting.50
Social Networking Communities. By 2004, social networking communities had become quite
popular among young singles. These consumers were increasingly inclined to use social
networking communities such as Friendster.com, Friendfinder.com, and Facebook.com to build
social contacts and generate dates. These sites scored higher on independent traffic trackers than
any of the traditional dating sites, including Match.com or Yahoo! Personals, posing a serious
threat. Analysts argued that these social networking communities gave users a more personal
experience than those provided by the typical search function available at traditional online
dating sites.51 For example, in 2004 friendster.com had over 19 million profiles in its member
database while facebook.com had more than 6 million.52, 53
A Maturing Industry
Compared to the numerous firms that failed when the dot-com bubble burst, online dating sites
had seen tremendous growth. But by 2004 most were beginning to experience lower growth
rates which were resulting in a leveling of total revenue. “Until this year, revenues for
Match.com and Yahoo! Personals, two of the biggest players in the industry, had been doubling
annually. Profits had been piling up even though fewer than 20% of these sites‟ users have paid
to seek their mates.”54 According to Jupiter Research, competition among online dating sites in
the U. S. was going to be fierce now that the segment had moved beyond an introductory phase.
Jupiter Research “forecast that the online dating market was expected to increase 9% in 2005 to
$516 million, a dramatic, if inevitable, falloff from the heady early days when the industry was
new and reported growth rates of 70 or 80% each year.”55
Analysts could only hypothesize about the future of online dating. One perspective held that
online dating was just another fad, one that was quickly losing energy. Another perspective
posited that online dating was an industry on the verge of maturity. Whether online dating was a
fad facing the end of a good run or an industry facing maturity, clearly Match.com had to address
the challenges of increasing competition in order to maintain its growth and leadership position.
Under the tenure of CEO Tim Sullivan, Match.com became the market leader through product
innovation, international expansion, and strategic alliances. By 2004, Match.com claimed over
900,000 individual paying subscribers. When new CEO Jim Safka took over in September 2004,
he faced the increasing challenge of stimulating growth for the firm. Yet, several questions
remained: Can the firm continue to grow in an intensely competitive environment? What can
the firm do to maintain its number one position in the industry?
Year Revenues in millions
*Post-merger with London-based uDate.com
Source: Interactive Corporation‟s Annual Reports (2000-2004)
Features of Match.com versus its Primary Competitors
Company Membership Monthly Auto Instant Video/Voice
Base Fee Matching Messaging Ads
eHarmony 5 million + $49.95 No No No
Lavalife 8 million + None No Yes Yes
Yahoo! 9 million + $24.95 Yes Yes Yes
Match.com 12 million + $29.99 Yes Yes Yes
Graphical View of Match.com's Revenues
Dollars (in Millions)
1 2 3 4 5
A Timeline of Match.com’s Activities
1993 1996 1999 2001 2003 2004
Electric Sold to Sold to Sullivan Acquired Safka
Classifieds Cedent Ticketmaster named UDate.com named
Founded Corporation CitySearch CEO CEO
1. Evans, Rory, and Stephanie Clifford (2005), “Love for the Workaholic,” Inc. Magazine,
February, Vol. 27, No. 2, p. 53.
2. Salkever, Alex (2003), “Finding Love, Version 2.0,” Business Week Online, June 10,
retrieved on January 23, 2006.
3. Mulrine, Anna (2003), “Love.com,” U.S. News and World Report, September 29,
http://www.usnews.com/usnews/culture/articles/030929/29dating.htm, retrieved on January 23,
4. Op. cit. Salkever
5. Gragam, Judith (2003), “Love at First Click,” www.Brandchannel.com, February 10,
http://www.brandchannel.com/features_profile.asp?pr_id=110, retrieved on January 23, 2006.
6. Match.com Press Release (2003), “Match.com National Singles Week Research Indicates
Singles are Dating More This Year and are Optimistic They will Find the Relationship They are
Seeking,” www.Match.com, September 19,
http://corp.match.com/index/newscenter_release_detail.asp?auto_index=43, retrieved on January
8. Reuters News Wire (2004), “The Funny Odds of Online Dating,” www.CNN.com, June 10,
http://www.cnn.com/2004/TECH/internet/06/10/bad.dates.reut, retrieved on September 13, 2005.
9. Lomax, Alyce (2004), “Online Dating‟s Creep Factor,” The Motley Fool, August 24,
http://www.fool.com/news/commentary/2004/commentary04082401.htm, retrieved on January
10. Op. cit. Mulrine
11. Op. cit. Reuters News Wire
12. Op. cit. Gragam
13. Op. cit. Mulrine
14. Op. cit. Lomax
15. Op. cit. Salkever
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www.Jupitermedia.com, http://www.jupiterevents.com/sew/summer02/Kremen.html, retrieved
on February 18, 2005.
17. Match.com Corporate Information (2005), “Match.com Spokespeople – US,”
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January 23, 2006.
18. Op. cit. Match.com Corporate Information
19. PRNewswire (2004), “Match.com Named as World‟s Biggest Dating Site,”
www.Findarticles.com, March 2,
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m4PRN/is_2004_March_2/ai_113802553/print, retrieved on
February 18, 2005.
21. Match.com Press Release (2004), “Match.com Launches Online SpeedMatching,”
www.Match.com, January 8,
http://corp.match.com/index/newscenter_release_detail.asp?auto_index=28, retrieved on January
22. Match.com Press Release (2002), “Match.com Launches MatchLive.com,” www.Match.com,
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January 23, 2006.
23. Match.com Press Release (2003), “Match.com Introduces Friends Feature, Allowing
Members to Find Friends in Addition to Romantic Relationships 48% of Match.com Subscribers
Surveyed Stated They Had Formed Friendships with People They Met on the Site,”
www.Match.com, December 18,
http://corp.match.com/index/newscenter_release_detail.asp?auto_index=32, retrieved on January
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26. Match.com Press Release (2004), “Match.com‟s SpeedMatching Now Offered in 50 Cities,”
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27. Op. cit. Gragam
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www.Match.com, February 25,
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30. Match.com Press Release (2004), “Match.com‟s VP of Romance to Provide Toll-Free Last-
Minute Valentine‟s Dating Advice,” www.Match.com, January 27,
http://corp.match.com/index/newscenter_release_detail.asp?auto_index=27, retrieved on January
31. Match.com Press Release (2005), “In the Mood Singles Party at DVF Studio in New York
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32. Op. cit. Gragam
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Find Lasting, Loving Relationships,” www.Thirdage.com, April 15,
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http://www.singlesonthego.com/personals/yahoo/, retrieved on January 23, 2006.
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Money,” CBA.CA News Online,
http://www.cba.ca/stories/print/2004/03/04/business/lavalife040304, retrieved on February 18,
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48. Gagne, Claire (2004), “Wooing Cheaters,” Marketing Magazine, September 13, Vol. 109,
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49. Op cit. Evans and Clifford
50. Sohn, Amy (2005), “Mating Network Rivalry: With Technology, Meeting People is a lot
Easier than Getting Rid of Them,” New York Magazine, March 28,
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51. Kharif, Olga (2004), “Online Dating Faces Rejection,” Business Week Online, October 11,
on January 23, 2006.
52. Marshall, Matt and Anna Tong (2006), “Face to Facebook: Social Networking Web Site is
Making a Strong Connection with College Students,” San Jose Mercury News, January 16,
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Valley is Social Networking,” CBS.MarketWatch.com, September 13,
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54. Op. cit. Kharif
55. Musgrove, Mike and Frank Ahrens (2005) “Online Dating Losing Steam,” The Washington
Post, February 12, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6956587/, retrieved on January 23, 2006.
Fighting off the Competition: Match.com and the Online Dating Industry
1. What consumer trends existed that suggest potential growth for online dating industry?
2. What potentially negative consumer trends could impede the expansion of the online dating
3. Identify the primary and secondary competitors facing Match.com.
4. Describe briefly each primary competitor’s positioning strategy
5. What is Match.com’s positioning strategy?